Deep Thought Thursday: Capitalism

Is making money on art greed? or just good old capitalism?

–from Tammy Vitale's comment in last week's Deep Thought

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31 comments to Deep Thought Thursday: Capitalism

  • Or maybe there is another answer to that question. How about a recognition of perceived value.

    • greed and capitalism are NOT the same thing. trading something of value for something else of value is not greed. What’s wrong with calling something what it is. Capitalism is a ‘system’ that gives us an occasion to provide value for value. T’ain’t greed. This is not to say that there are no greedy capitalists any more than there are no greedy people in a monarchy, a socialist system, or any free trading system, etc. Could be that’s why there are two words, one for each of two different things.

  • Good ol’ capitalism if you ask me! Art is my life and I can’t see making my living any other way!

  • Is making money from healing people greedy? Is making money from feeding people greedy? Is making money from teaching people greedy? Is making money from building things greedy? No. Why would art be valued differently than any other human endeavor?

  • Walter Hawn

    To be an artist is to earn at least part of one’s living by one’s art. As Frank Zappa said: “Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.” Art begins as craft, the making of something. It may and should transcend craft, but, at root, art is the personal, hands on, making of things. Greed is excessive desire. It is not greedy to desire an income sufficient to support a family in some comfort. Capitalism is characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods. Capital goods are those that produce income, like ships and punch-presses, and are operated by working people. Capitalism implies at least two classes of people: The class of owners and the class of workers who must be useful to the owners. Corporate capitalism adds a third: The class of managers, who are neither fish nor fowl, but who must please both the owners and the market. And then, there are artists, who generally own little in the way of capital goods, whose income is determined by their own labor, and who must manage somehow to please both themselves and the market.

  • Hey, I’ll cross that ethical bridge when I get to it…My husband always says to me “don’t put the cart before the horse…”

  • There is nothing greedy about earning money. Nor is there anything greedy about making really, really good money selling your art. Greed is about being excessive at the expense of others.

  • Greed. Capitalism. Necessity. All of the above? As an artist I sell to earn a living, so necessity. The capitalist economy allows me to do this. Artist and collectors *can* be greedy too, due to the capitalist system. But the question seems to imply selling someone else’s art (not artists earning a living, that is). Still, not necessarily greed. I’ve bought art for investment – as I don’t particularly want to starve when I retire. Is “saving” and speculating on art for the future always greed?

  • Lauren

    We all have to eat! I think the artist who says that selling their art is “selling out” is probably the same artist who isn’t selling any of their work!

  • Greed? No. I am, however, very honored when someone chooses to spend their hard-earned money on something I am compelled to do (whether I was paid for it or not). I’m a grateful capitalist.

  • Nicole Hyde

    Greed? No. I am, however, honored that someone chooses to spend their hard-earned money on something I am compelled to do and would do whether I was paid for it or not. I’m a grateful capitalist.

  • Nicole Hyde

    …and a grateful capitalist that techno-glitches happen to and double-posted. :-)

  • Making money from art, even having boat loads of the stuff is not greed. Money is money. Not good, not bad. It is our motives for gaining it, keeping it, using it, or giving it away that determines if it is greed. I am sure there are greedy artists as their are greedy stock brokers or priests. No profession is exempt from greed our generosity.

  • Ditto many others, esp Daniel. Sales are just a bartering of values = Capitalism. Greed is an extreme.

  • A day’s pay for a day’s work is how I look at selling my art. Greed – no, just my way of making a living. Sometimes the work trancends me, someone is touched and I’m honored by a purchase. Celebrate! Other times it’s just a hard days work for minimum wage.

  • My first thought after reading the question was What is Alyson looking for? I found the implication in the question that getting paid for art is greedy, made me feel a little defensive. Of course it’s not greedy, it’s business. With that said however where one might not be driven to perform a career job say, ditch digging or dentistry for sheer joy, as an artist I am driven joyfully to create. And I get paid to do it, echoing Lisa and Daniel, there is an exchange.

  • Oh, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time- If a person makes money with their art, other “real” artists think of them as “capitalists”. However, unless you have a trust fund, or a rich spouse, a person might very well starve just making art for their own satisfaction. Is capitalism a bad thing? Greed is an intense selfish desire for more. Capitalism is an exchange of something for something that is needed or desired. If a person makes art, for the purpose of making money, they are a “capitalist”, capitalizing on their talent. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe a related question is, what is “real” art? Real art, comes from the soul, the heart, someplace deep. I make art, and made the decision to do that, rather than become, say, a city planner. I like to live in a nice house, have enough to eat, and to be able to help other people. I do not have a trust fund or a rich husband, so the money I have comes from the sale of my art. I don’t really like being called a capitalist. It’s a tricky profession. If a person makes art solely to make money, there is a scent of insincerity. In order to make truly beautiful art, the work has to come from the heart, without a desire for recognition, or reimbursement. One of my favorite artists- Phoebe Palmer http://www.vaultgallery.com/Palmer_Avail.asp once said – in the most fantastic artist statement I’ve ever read – that after working on and with one of her pieces, when it was resolved, it was “…underfoot. Out of the house! They’re yours!” That seems to sums up the art of making a living with ones art.

  • Ronnie Maziarek

    Art is not a separate issue from any other form of living. In the past artists worked to live, it was how they were able to eat, clothe themselves, acquire shelter. It was the essence of who that particular person was, they’re calling, just as some were called to be doctors, teachers, stone masons. Being an artist and being successful at it shouldn’t even need to be questioned as to it’s moral right, ie: greed. I would prefer to ask “Why not?”

  • This question is so timely. I wrote about a similar issue on my blog yesterday. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making money from your art. In fact, that is a great thing! What concerns me is the chance some people will misinterpret the motivations or value of artists. If making the buck is your goal, do it. However, some artists don’t see capitalism as their goal. There are many different kinds of artists. All artists have their own motivations and goals. To compare them in regards to sales or capitalism isn’t wise. It is like comparing apples and oranges. It just doesn’t work. I just hope we all realize this. Sheree Rensel

  • Generally, people are greedy. Money-making off of art is not greedy, but greedy people are the worst artists. Art is meant to be shared, interpreted, appreciated by an audience. I don’t understand how artists expect to make it big when they are terrified of putting their art out there for the world to see. I have had people submitting work to my website who practically need to be convinced to let me put their work up without some kind of watermark or alternative protection. I can’t accept work with a huge watermark with that person’s name over it. It is covering the art! Greed for me taints art. I would rather give my art away so that many people appreciate it rather than secretly showing it to a select people in order to earn a buck. Art isn’t about money. Sure, earning money off your art is nice… I don’t want to die and have half of my work sitting in a closet because I was too selfish to share it with the world.

  • It’s definitely not greed, it’s earning a living. And what better ‘job’ is there, than doing what one loves doing best?

  • I wasn’t going to say anything since it way my comment that started all this; however, this morning I was reading ltrs to the editor in the Washington Post and one was objecting to fundng “the arts.” David Wonderling says: “People are taking pay cuts, being laid off and losing homes…Fund the arts and pet projects when the nation is once again flush with cash.” Those here who are working artists understand that selling art is part of the business of being a working artist. Those of us who are, indeed, working artists, need to take back the art world from those who review in coded language and display work that makes you go “Huh?” Art is not rarified. It is not special. It is focus and passion just like any work that makes sense. It is no less deserving than farm aid which feeds the body, for art feeds the spirit. The sooner we take back the definition of “art,” the sooner art in schools will be seen as the necessity that it is, and the sooner funding artists who work at their business will not seem untoward.

  • I wasn’t going to say anything since it way my comment that started all this; however, this morning I was reading ltrs to the editor in the Washington Post and one was objecting to fundng “the arts.” David Wonderling says: “People are taking pay cuts, being laid off and losing homes…Fund the arts and pet projects when the nation is once again flush with cash.” Those here who are working artists understand that selling art is part of the business of being a working artist. Those of us who are, indeed, working artists, need to take back the art world from those who review in coded language and display work that makes you go “Huh?” Art is not rarified. It is not special. It is focus and passion just like any work that makes sense. It is no less deserving than farm aid which feeds the body, for art feeds the spirit. The sooner we take back the definition of “art,” the sooner art in schools will be seen as the necessity that it is, and the sooner funding artists who work at their business will not seem untoward.

  • Not at all. The fact that someone is willing to pay means you made something that is valuable for someone else. It is perfectly fine to create art only to satisfy yourself, which is more selfish in a way, but then you need another job to make a living. It is your choice. Life is fair. The happiest artist must be one who create art for themselves and still the art is loved by other people. I believe that an entrepreneur, which I am, is an artist. I always dream of creating something that I am passionate about and that people will find valuable. Just different tools and media. Capitalism is a very misleading terminology. It gives feeling of guilt to people who exchange goods and ideas with other people freely. We should call it free market, a much better description.

  • My husband is the artist, and it’s my job to sell his art so he can keep creating and at the same time support our family. Sometimes I’ll hear someone say that he “sells out” because he licenses his art for printing on products (clothing, beach towels,etc.). It hurts to hear that, mostly because we work so hard at what we do, and his art brings so much joy to people. He doesn’t consider himself a fine artist, he calls himself a commercial artist. I don’t know if that makes a difference, but I suppose a fine artist wouldn’t want their art printed on t-shirts! The bottom line is this: Why would any artist want to keep “the Starving Artist” curse alive!? It’s my plan to turn that old curse around and to see evey artist become a “well fed artist”!

  • I am a capitalist and proud of it! I work 14 hours a day, asking for no bail outs. My art pays for the food I eat, the clothes I wear, the gasoline I buy, the supplies I use. Is getting paid for my hard word ‘Greed’? I guess some people must think so.

  • Daniels first post said what I would have said. There exist odd ideas I suspect born in college art classes like canvas must breathe, art exhibition entries should all be free, money is bad (by the way so are awards). Some persons hold on to these ideas long past their usefullness -passing the art class, into their adult lives. While I’m at it-there is no such thing as “sugar high” in normal healthy people. Let that one go too. All food that goes into your mouth must be converted into blood sugar including fruits and veggies.

  • What a pleasure to read these thoughtful comments, I am glad you all took time to share your thoughts. I agree, so far, closely with Michael Lynn Adams above. But I have some other thoughts in a different direction: some months ago a museum curator posted a dig about selling art, about art galleries…and was arrogantly in support of the idea that real artists exhibit in museums “free” from the constrains of money. That is one point a view. Another is that art is negligible, a luxury, and that artists are lucky and self-indulgent. How many times have you heard that you are lucky to be an artist? There is a view that art is like making love. Which taken literally makes a money exchange a little uncomfortable. I think the answer is show the love and value one has for art, and to be a realist when it comes to practical matters. A practical idealist. :)

  • Michael N: I understand this. The museum curator role is from my old life, so it sounds familiar. It’s easy for the curator (who makes a steady salary) to say that. And, yes, I’m sure “You’re lucky to be an artist” is heard far too often by artists. I’ve got to watch myself and make sure I don’t say it because luck has nothing to do with it! I like “practical idealist.”

  • I’ve always thought it interesting that those involved in the arts are supposed to be different than the rest of the world. We’re supposed to have loftier thoughts, deeper hearts, emptier wallets. Also interesting to see how male artists perceive their work as opposed to female artists in the responses.
    Perhaps it’s time to look into the stereotypes we ourselves might be helping to perpetuate.
    I love Nicole’s description of herself as a grateful capitalist.

  • Charles

    You can be the greediest person on earth and never add a dime to your lot. The rapacious desire to possess things doesn’t imply that you have those things. Greed is not a paradigm usually found among artists. As the father of a young artist, I see no greed in her desire to express, and expose, her inner most ideas and thoughts for others to experience.