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on the privilege of making art


"The Money Is in All the Wrong Places" is a fantastic article on an issue I have been obsessively thinking about for what is now a few years - namely that success in the creative field correlates strongly with family wealth. Below is a little excerpt, but really you should read the whole piece (and the comments):

Here is the crux of the issue: If Sydney Sweeney cannot afford to take six months off, it is a safe assumption to make that no one in Hollywood without family money can. That means that even one of the most famous and in-demand actresses working right now is less secure than every nepotism baby who sauntered into an audition because their dad had been the legal counsel for Warner Bros. or whatever.

I've been raised on the idea of meritocracy as much as the next ordinary person, and have been asking myself questions about the sustainability of long-term skills training or of pursuing high quality output (in other words: how does one afford to train as an artist for N years in order to create unique and exceptional work). As a reasonably skilled person I've also been asking myself why is it so hard to do "basics" like more predictable work streams, having a life outside work/job, having a strong social circle, secure time off, and other stuff made of Unobtanium such as owning a home, or comfortably bringing new life into this world. I haven't found satisfactory answers. Only more questions.

Like the article says, there's much anxiety and resentment at play, and if talking to my peers signals anything, it is that I'm not alone. It's all a little hard to navigate.

Amazing that as a society we don't talk more about this. Yes, there's much talk of inequality, cost of living, etc. Not much of that looks at the arts (and us people doing art), maybe out of fear that in an industry fixated on success, it makes anyone asking the question look like a loser.

While there's practically no barrier to becoming an artist, there is a very high bar to achieving recognition, much higher than just two-three decades ago. In a dysfunctional long-tail environment such as music, keeping at the craft over the required period of time has become a question of being able to fund it from elsewhere and to still have the time/energy/space to pursue high skill and quality of creative output.

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