You’re subsidizing the arts right now.

And back to Why Are Artists Poor! (Seems like a musical when you add the exclamation mark doesn’t it?  Sorry to disappoint. If it’s any comfort, I’m disappointed too. I love musicals.)

If you’ve been on pins and needles for more commentary on this one reader(s), I do apologize. I have nothing to say for myself except that I can only take so much of this one at a time, and this little spin on the arts economy set me back a bit.

You may recall that Abbing’s book addresses what is unique about the arts economy. I’m not sure, because it is a translation, but it seems like “unique” in this instance may be synonymous with “dysfunctional” and “utterly unsustainable” and “something only a dummy would get involved in.” A dummy with the most beautiful of dreams, of course.

He talks a lot about the various ways the gift sphere operates, and all the forms of subsidies that pour into the arts and contribute to the arts economy’s inability to stand on its own two feet. Now, this surprised me because I hadn’t been thinking of it in this way, but according to Abbing, you, artist, are also subsidizing the arts economy all the time. You are subsidizing it by accepting a tremendous cut in your earning potential (all that money you could have been making), you are subsidizing it by taking the money you make in your day job and using it to support yourself or buy supplies to pursue your career in the arts, you are subsidizing it by working for free, your partner is subsidizing it it by paying the electricity bill or getting the groceries when you cannot, and your family and friends are supporting it by seeing shows they might not otherwise have seen or taking you out to dinner when they know you’re broke.

This shouldn’t have surprised me, as its not exactly news that all of these behaviors have been going on, but when I think of these activities as being a type of subsidy, it does illuminate just how tremendous the scope of arts subsidies are. And just how deeply dysfunctional this economy we are participating in is and how unlikely and improbable it would be to actually function as a traditional market economy. So if that’s what you want in your heart of hearts, well, that is a long shot. Which we of course know. But this hits it home.

The good news is, I’m still not finished with this book, so there are more illuminating tidbits to come!

PS. I begin my classes tomorrow. Finally! My first course is German Theatre and Drama in the long 20th century (you can’t wait reader(s), can you?)…so to prepare I’ve been cramming 18th and 19th century German theatre with the help of a rather heavy text book. Apparently German theatre has always been highly, if not totally, subsidized—to the point of actors being considered civil servants. And German theatre has contributed some rather crucial movements to the art form. So. Who needs a market economy anyway?

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