Art, the Market and Love

I need to find an artist to love today. 

I need to grab an artist by the shoulders, look him in the eye and say "You are doing good work. Valuable work. Work that matters! You need to keep this up, even if the validation you think you need isn’t coming. Even if people don’t seem to get it. Even if you are not 'making it'. Yet. You need to do this work. I need it. No, really. Here, let me prove it to you."

And then I take out my wallet.

Last night I read a graphic novel called Market Day. Available at the Edmonton Public Library, this little gem follows an artisan–a rug maker–through a cultural shift more than a hundred years ago. A shift in his own home life and a shift in the cultural context. 

Market Day
By James Sturm

At home, he now has a wife and a baby is about to be born.

At the market, the storeowner who invested in his work–who was willing to pay the extra for fine craftsmanship–has moved away. No one is left who values the hours of work he put in. Not when they can get a rug that looks pretty similar and does the same job for a quarter of the price 3 stalls over.

Not when the industrial revolution is gearing up.

Not when IKEA carries pretty much the same thing, en masse, for a third of the cost.

The end of Market Day is depressing. Challenging. Our hero does not get a fair price for his rugs. The shift is real, and total. The book closes as he returns to his wife, dejected but resolved to sell his loom and turn his attention to other ways of supporting his new family.

It’s hard to support a family on art. I get this. 

It’s hard when everyone around you tells you they value what you are doing, but no one is willing to pay for it.

I get this. Austin Kleon, author of Show Your Work most recently, gets this. 

It was on his recommendation that I reserved a copy of Market Day. It is Austin Kleon who came up with this simple but challenging list of ways to support an artist.

Here are Austin’s three steps for supporting an artist you love

  1. Give them money.
  2. Share their work with others.
  3. Leave them alone so they can make more of it.

So there is the gauntlet for today, thrown down. How will I love an artist today?

Will I purchase a piece of their work? Buy an album on iTunes instead of downloading it ‘free’ from NoiseTrade (or if I do, leave a tip)?

Will I share their work online - taking the time to tell you why I love it and why you should love it too? Check!

Will I offer the gift of time? Maybe babysitting kids or running an errand so they can have an hour in the studio? 

The fact is, the market doesn’t love artists. Not right now. Not right here.

Art has been commodified and craftsmanship devalued. Walmart can sell everything cheaper. We've exalted the curators forgetting that they need something to curate.

And hey, some of us need to get some things cheaper. Especially us artists. I can’t afford to buy artisinal-everything and keep my family alive.

But, at least so far, robots make terrible art.

Unlike the rug-maker in Market Day, I’m not selling my loom.

Not just yet.

Not when I can love an artist in yet another way. Solidarity.


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