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Why Are Artists Poor?

Why Are Artists Poor?: The Exceptional Economy of the Arts

Hans Abbing
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Why Are Artists Poor?
    Book Description:

    Most artists earn very little. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of aspiring young artists. Do they give to the arts willingly or unknowingly? Governments and other institutions also give to the arts, to raise the low incomes. But their support is ineffective: subsidies only increase the artists' poverty. The economy of the arts is exceptional. Although the arts operate successfully in the marketplace, their natural affinity is with gift-giving, rather than with commercial exchange. People believe that artists are selflessly dedicated to art, that price does not reflect quality, and that the arts are free. But is it true? This unconventional multidisciplinary analysis explains the exceptional economy of the arts. Insightful illustrations from the practice of a visual artist support the analysis. "">Read a sample chapter (Pdf.) This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0365-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Art & Art History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-10)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 11-16)
  4. Chapter 1 Sacred Art Who Has the Power to Define Art?
    (pp. 17-33)

    Why is it that Eddy, in the first illustration, apologizes for being unable to provide his daughter with a more culturally oriented upbringing? And how can we explain why the exhibition’s ordinary visitors, the ones who prefer the traditional paintings, apologize for not showing more interest in the avant-garde paintings, while those who prefer the avant-garde paintings are angry at being confronted with the more traditional paintings?

    To be honest,as an artistand an art lover, I take the difference in behavior for granted. I think that certain kinds of art are superior to others, and therefore, I find...

  5. Chapter 2 The Denial of the Economy Why Are Gifts to the Arts Praised, While Market Incomes Remain Suspect?
    (pp. 34-51)

    Is the presence of money and dealing in the arts unable to bear the light of day? The three illustrations above clearly show that art is traded, but in a veiled manner. In the commercial gallery the paintings have no price tags. Sacha Tanja, who buys drawings for her bank does not openly ask for the price of the drawings she wants, and collector Mr. O. strictly differentiates between talking about the artworks’ qualities and bargaining over prices. But ultimately, the example of the gallery owner is the most amazing. Why does the owner only want to pay Alex the...

  6. Chapter 3 Economic Value Versus Aesthetic Value Is There Any Financial Reward for Quality?
    (pp. 52-77)

    Does aesthetic value diminish? Is that why so many works of art end up in a garbage dump? And why do artists remain so ambiguous about market value? One minute, artists are scolding the market because it has nothing to do with quality and the next their appreciation of Alex’s work is determined by its success in the market. And so when Alex’s friend Adrian becomes successful on the market, Alex first tries to play it down by questioning market value, but in the end he comes to the conclusion that his friend’s work is simply better.

    Although I do...

  7. Chapter 4 The Selflessly Devoted Artist Are Artists Reward-Oriented?
    (pp. 78-102)

    Artists are supposed to be selflessly devoted to their art. Are artists immune to rewards? How immune is Alex when he feels people gazing over his shoulder, who either praise his work or condemn it? And when Alex decides to concentrate more on his photography, is it for the praise or is it merely to ‘serve art’? A similar question can be posed to the museum director who is seeking to close a sponsorship deal with the Audi automobile manufacturer. Does he in turn lose his autonomy?

    As an artist, I believe that artists are selflessly devoted to art. They...

  8. Chapter 5 Money for the Artist Are Artists Just Ill-Informed Gamblers?
    (pp. 103-123)

    Why is it that prospective artists like Alex seem so reckless? Are the arts a kind of lottery system where prizes are high, but the odds on success very small? And, is it true that artists ignore available information about these bad odds? This chapter attempts to address these questions. Above all, it attempts to explain why a low-income existence is the destiny for the vast majority of artists. It also looks at why only a small minority of artists will earn a high income from their art.

    It goes without saying that people are impressed by the high incomes...

  9. Chapter 6 Structural Poverty Do Subsidies and Donations Increase Poverty?
    (pp. 124-151)

    Now that Robin is receiving a subsidy, he has enough to live off of and so has overcome his survival constraint. He quits his second job and concentrates on making art, not selling it. In doing so, Robin reveals himself to be more oriented towards the government than towards the market. This kind of attitude affects the economy of the arts. This chapter sets out to investigate the general effects that income decreases and increases via subsidies, donations, and spending have on the average artist’s income and on the number of artists in the arts. Do subsidies that are intended...

  10. Chapter 7 The Cost Disease Do Rising Costs in the Arts Make Subsidization Necessary?
    (pp. 152-180)

    Why is it so important for artists to insist that cost considerations don’t influence their work? Why does Gerald agree to allow his work to be electronically amplified when it serves artistic purposes, but opposes its use if the aim is to serve more people in a larger hall? Come to think of it, is it possible to make purely artistic decisions independent of cost considerations?

    Costs in the arts rise faster than in most other production sectors. Do rising costs help explain the high level of donations and subsidies, i.e., the large gift sphere in the arts? And do...

  11. Chapter 8 The Power and the Duty to Give Why Give to the Arts?
    (pp. 181-202)

    Why is it that Alex’s family and friends, but also private citizens, corporations, foundations, and government agencies feel so compelled to support art and artists? And why do artists like Robert and Alex give so much to art? Do they make sacrifices? Or is it more proper to say that they pay dues (or duties) and are ultimately sacrificed?

    In order to answer these questions it might be useful to look at gift-giving in the arts from the perspective of power and duty. I use the term ‘duty’ to emphasize that many ‘gifts’ are not free, but imposed by the...

  12. Chapter 9 The Government Serves Art Do Art Subsidies Serve the Public Interest or Group Interests?
    (pp. 203-231)

    According to Paul, Peter, Anna, and Martin, the government supports the arts because it has a duty to do so. Without subsidization, society would be worse off. Art serves the public interest and therefore the government serves art. This is thepublic interest explanationof art subsidization. Jonathan, however, has an alternative explanation. He says that influential groups who profit from the government support of art pressure the government to support the arts. The government serves art because it is forced to do so. This is therent seeking explanationof art subsidization. In the following chapter I will add...

  13. Chapter 10 Art Serves the Government How Symbiotic Is the Relationship between Art and the State?
    (pp. 232-258)

    Why do governments bestow art on their citizens? Why did the Dutch government present a Mondrian painting to the Dutch public, when they would have preferred another kind of art or a tax deduction instead? And why did the government not convert the painting deal into a major celebration? How does the Dutch government use art to impress its German neighbors? Finally, what kind of message is the Dutch government trying to convey?

    The explanations for government involvement in the arts presented in the previous chapter are probably lacking. They don’t explain the extent of the government’s involvement. This chapter...

  14. Chapter 11 Informal Barriers Structure the Arts How Free or Monopolized Are the Arts?
    (pp. 259-279)

    Why does Margaret publicly deny her relationship with an artist-friend whose work she admires? And why is it so important for artists to be favored by the government? In order to answer these questions this chapter investigates the barriers that artists encounter in the arts. Because many of these barriers depend on government involvement, the treatment of this subject was delayed until an analysis of the government’s involvement in the arts could be completed.

    At first glance, it seems that, unlike other professions, there are few barriers in the arts. The arts are unfettered. Anybody can become an artist. If...

  15. Chapter 12 Conclusion: a Cruel Economy Why Is the Exceptional Economy of the Arts so Persistent?
    (pp. 280-294)

    Marco’s apologetic behavior lies at the heart of the exceptional economy of the arts. While Marco may have regrettably decided to not pursue art, many others decide precisely the opposite. They enter the art world because the arts are extremely attractive, despite the prospects of low incomes. The arts offer something ‘extra’ that makes Marco apologetic.

    I set out to write this book to explain why incomes are so low in the arts and why the arts remain so attractive as well as the phenomenon of the large amounts of donations and subsidies the arts receive. During the process, it...

  16. Epilogue: the Future Economy of the Arts Is this Book’s Representation of the Economy of the Arts Outdated?
    (pp. 295-310)

    In this epilogue, I address the question of whether my representation of the exceptional economy of the arts is an outdated one, or nearly so. Given the notions of postmodernism and commercialization, the answer to this question could well be ‘yes’. Therefore, Section 2 and the sections thereafter will examine the forces that promote change in the arts and the economy of the arts. Because a thorough treatment of possible developments is beyond the scope of this book, the remarks in this epilogue are sketchy and necessarily speculative.¹

    On the basis of the analysis in this book, one could expect...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 311-348)
  18. Literature
    (pp. 349-360)
  19. Index of names
    (pp. 361-364)
  20. Index of subjects
    (pp. 365-368)