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Profit in art?

Francis Ford Coppola recently made an interesting statement in an interview about whether artists (in the broadest sense of the word) should be paid for their work. Here’s the relevant paragraph:
‘You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.
This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?
In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.’
The full article is here: Francis Ford Coppola: On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration
In this digital age, access to and sharing of art in all its forms becomes easier and freer. Perhaps Coppola is right: we should look beyond the commercial models we are used to and think of profit in art in different ways. Artists are clearly deeply exercised by the issue of how to make a living in these challenging times and some interesting approaches have come to the fore: Radiohead were heralded as visionary for launching their In Rainbows album by asking fans to pay whatever they liked. 3 out of 5 people paid nothing. Free artswapping schemes on the internet/twitter have developed with some success. More lateral thinking in this digital world is required it seems, its early days.

Posted by author: Jane Parry
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13 thoughts on “Profit in art?

  • Well, quite frankly, that’s a ludicrous comment, redolent with protestant work ethic: a job is not a worthwhile job (i.e. worthy of a wage)if you actually enjoy it and are fulfiled by doing it. Only hard, gritty work counts then – as if producing quality art and making a living of it wasn’t hard and gritty enough. Art is libertinous and symptomatic of a weakness of spirit that can never lead to salvation. Hence it’s not worthy of a wage. Is that what Coppola is saying? Nonsense.
    As for his comment on the role of the traditional artist patron, I understand that it was precisely the regular commissions from wealthy patrons that kept people like, let’s say Goya, in business, that is, producing art. A patron meant money.

  • But part of the point Coppola is making is that the digital age throws things up in the air. That’s reality. Who pays for art? Patrons or (in this country) the Arts Council, who are suffering major cutbacks. What I am interested in is ‘the ways round it’ that Coppola reassures us there are. Perhaps for him there are ways round it, but then he’s at the top of his profession, what about those of us who are not?

  • It seems to me that Coppola is making to points:
    In the past, good (or lucky?) artists were provided with a living wage or support by patrons; others starved no doubt. They did not, by and large, become rich from the proceeds of their art.
    Modern digital media mean that it is possible, maybe even likely, that art will become free in that it will be impossible to prevent it being widely copied; as a result it will not be possible in the future to become rich by originating art. This is just a return to the situation for most of history. The recent past when artists have becme rich by originating art and making money from selling it was just a transient phenomenon.
    Maybe he is right. Pop musicians are returning to the concert circuit to make their money because they can’t make it from selling records any more.
    Certainly the idea of producing art because you want to rather than to make money seems attractive. Having another source of income (ie a proper job) would make you independent and able to produce the art you want to not the art that your customer or public wants.
    Hard work – but then who said it was supposed to be easy?

  • Hockney’s recent work (Fleurs Fraiches) is distributed freely to a group of people, whether it gets distributed further is open to debate. Certainly though, he didn’t get paid for doing it. Whether he got paid for the gallery show is another matter, and I suppose I can draw an analogy to the music scene there, with the musicians going back to the gig circuit. However, as a 70-odd year old established artist, you can probably argue that he doesn’t really need that much money to support himself now.
    Having said that, there’s no excuse for people with money saying that art should be free. It devalues the work put in. I have provided images for free (the current OCA photography degree adverts for example), but only because I was thinking that it will possibly work in my favour – I have something to show for it; work in print, so I actually see that as a form of barter. Not free after all…
    Things do change though, so we will see what happens.

  • I think the challenge of earning a living from art has been around for a long time. In the last few weeks I’ve been very impressed by the work of Jonathan Worth, a professional photographer who also teaches at Coventry University. One of the photography course modules aims to teach students the skills they will need to develop a sustainable photographic practice. I’ve written more about it in my blog here.
    Jonathan gives things away for free and makes money out of doing so. One of the things that he makes freely available is his University of Coventry courses – Phonar is the one where people are encouraged to take a creative approach to building their future career. I think there’s lots of food for thought there. Some of the Phonar content is probably familiar to Jose from his recent course. I recall a blog about taking learning points from the course forward, and wondered how things were going?

    • But wouldn’t this be an example of an artist/photographer taking a second job as a teacher, I’m not sure that’s the same thing as giving your work away for free. This seems more of a loss leading marketing stategy for developing interest in your teaching work. Some of which may be salaried (although I don’t know the circumstances at Coventry)
      Many artists teach, and there are various ways of reaching interested students – I would have thought that was a second job – but maybe I’m wrong?

  • The new Fine Art MA has a whole unit on professional practice and it is something that we will in future be endevouring to give some coverage on at level 3/ HE6 in the undergrad programmes. So in summary we hope to be doing this in 2011/12.

  • Anned: I think that taking a post as a teacher is diversification (as Clive puts it). Giving away the course material for free and in consequence of this and other initiatives increasing the demand from paying customers is clever. If you check through the links there are other examples more directly related to Jonathan’s work as a photographer.
    He is particularly interested in the use of digital media to find and build audiences.
    But those are just examples of a whole range of things one could do to develop your profile/generate income. What I really liked about Jonathan’s thinking is that he is essentially encouraging people to apply some of the same creative skills to developing their practice as they do to their work.
    PS: Thanks very much to the mysterious editing angel who corrected my earlier typing errors and tidied up the links into the bargain!. : -)

  • It sounds like he gives very good advice and demonstrates it himself, what you have to do is show initiative to the maximum, all the time, 24/7.
    No one is going to come looking for you; photographers are as numerous as buses, there’ll be another one along in a minute.
    You have to go after them, in every which way you can think of and when you connect you have to do everything you can to impress them as the solution to their problem.

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