Thursday, November 10, 2011

DIY and chipping in

I've noticed something lately among some artists I know, which I find a bit disappointing. It's a focus on money and compensation that I don't remember seeing so much of in the past. I hear statements like, "I'm not doing anything for free" and see some Kickstarter pages that make me raise an eyebrow.

Now. Put down the pitchfork and hear me out. I do think art is valuable. I don't think being an artist should mean living a life of poverty. But I also think that 1) financial challenges can actually lead to innovation in art, and 2) community and volunteering are central to the arts and I don't want to see them disappear.

I will restrain myself from gushing about my days at NTI (almost a decade ago...yikes!) because that could go on forever and would only end in me saying ridiculous things like "free your pelvis!" while sobbing with nostalgia, and who wants to see that? But one thing I really liked about the program was that we were given very little (basically nothing, really) for the scenes we directed and for our final project. If you needed something, you made it, or you found it by asking "Who's got a newspaper?" "Do any of you guys have a striped tie?" And if someone had it, they let you borrow it for your scene. You did not go around asking your friends for money so you could go prop shopping.

I adore low-budget, passion-driven theater. I'm more intrigued by a site-specific piece using found objects than some high-budget musical any day. Personal preference, yes. But I value experimentation, and lack of funds and experimentation are a match made in heaven.

I think Kickstarter is a great website, and I have donated to several projects that sounded really cool and truly could not have happened without funding. I'm not trying to say no one should ever ask for money. But I see some projects that seem to me to be more about laziness and lack of imagination than a true need. If you can't get off your butt and make art without someone giving you money first, then I think there might be an issue there.

Which brings me to the second point I mentioned above. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but I seem to be seeing less of the "let's get together and do this thing for the fun of it/because we feel it should be done" attitude that I love about the artistic community. Listen, if some big corporation, or your millionaire friend, asks you to make some art for them, by all means ask them for some money. If your fellow struggling artist friend asks if you want in on her non-paying project but you simply don't have the time because you have to work so hard at your day job, by all means tell her so. [Actually, I'm of the opinion that having a day job can be very beneficial to one's art, but that's a topic for another day] But if your across-the-board attitude is, "I'm not doing anything for free," then I have to wonder why you're an artist. I don't think your fellow struggling artist friends are trying to screw you over by asking if you want in on a project they can't pay you for. If you think they are...find some new friends.

Skill-sharing doesn't always have to be "consulting" for a fee. Your time is well spent when you're being inspired with your friends. Who helped you grow as an artist...only people you paid? I doubt it!

Do what you can do, help when you can help, and see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. If you can't afford to do something, that's cool. Make money when you can and enjoy it - you worked for it! But why look at everything with dollar signs in your eyes? Our scrappiness and generosity have served us well as artists, and we shouldn't be so quick to part with them.

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