The creation of art generally doesn’t equate to the creation of money. Since it can take years to see any sort of profit, if a profit ever comes at all, poor kids don’t pursue art. I’m sorry, let me rephrase that, poor kids can’t pursue art because they don’t have a backer to pay their bills for them while they do so. They have no safety net. They have no parent’s health insurance they can jump on. They don’t have the time or resources to pursue something that many in the lower and middle classes would classify as a hobby.
And if poor kids do pursue art? There is an immense guilt that they feel and an immense imposter syndrome. Working class people don’t paint pictures. We don’t write poems. We don’t spend hours writing and rewriting the same pages for the pursuit of beauty because well, that is a frivolous endeavor.
What is the real problem with this reality? Is the real problem that only rich kids have the option to take the time to pursue the arts? Or is it that as a society, we don’t value the arts in the ways that we should? Artists don’t brandish the same ohs and ahs as doctors or lawyers. We are such a product-driven society, a society that is fixated on goods and tangible services, and working at the production of a product that doesn’t fit inside of previously formatted parameters is difficult for other people to understand.
At the risk of sounding like a ridiculous hippie, why is making money the most important pursuit?This is where the poor kid in me starts to roll my eyes at myself. I start to yell at my computer screen “So you don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck! So you can afford an apartment in a safe neighborhood! So you can eat something other than mac and cheese for dinner every night! (I mean, mac and cheese is delicious and everything but….). There are very few hippies I’ve met in my life who come from poverty. It is a wonderful choice to make the conscious decision to move away from materialism and move closer to nature, but many times this involves a start in life that included materialism. It is a wonderful choice to choose to pursue happiness instead of financial success, but what is often overlooked is that it is a very privileged choice that someone gets to make to shirk financial stability. The poor know that you can’t shirk something that you never had. You can’t turn away from something that was never yours. In wealthy households, children are taught that their possibilities are endless. They are raised believing they can, and should be and do anything they want. They have the security to dream and explore.
So what is the consequence? As our society moves into this dangerous realm where everyone goes to college and there is a formal training for every job, what does that mean for the arts? There are nearly 300 MFA programs across the country today (three decades ago, there were barely 50). The creative writing majors and the fine arts majors are overflowing with all the kids from the right side of the tracks, all the trust funds, and all of the offspring who don’t know what an overdraft fee is. And the poor kids who love to write, love to draw, love to create, but can’t justify spending 40 grand a year on an education that won’t guarantee them a steady position are siphoned out. I know very few poor kids who made it to college just to study art. The studios and creative writing majors are filled with rich kids who have the privilege to pursue their passion with a financial safety net to protect them. What does that mean for the art that finds its way to our bookshelves, gallery walls, Spotify stations, and stages? When I read a new book, I can’t help but wonder who I’m not reading. I wonder whose voice has been left out of our societal narrative because they couldn’t finish their book because they were just trying to pay their rent. What can be done to counteract this dangerous trend and what happens when art becomes a privilege of the upper class?
For now, I’m going to argue for the good old-fashioned patron, because I’m not sure what else to do. So if there is a king somewhere or a member of the nobility or some aristocrat who is willing to fund my life while I make art, I’m taking applications.