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Published 11 Jul 2023

6

min read
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Performance artist, writer and @art.goss co-founder @noa_marthe is here to advise you on navigating the inner workings of the art world. Ask her about your art-institutional dramas and artlove affairs; labour conditions and career paths; what you should like and which shows to boycott. She’ll tell you when/if/why to spill the tea, she’s your coach on the Couch. There’s no such thing as a stupid [art] question - Noa knows it all.

Dear Noa, how can one make a living as an artist?

Dear Anonymous art lover, thank you for your question! The question of questions!

Well… First off, I take it that by “making a living” you mean “earning money”. Life indeed is not a given but something that has to be earned! (ain’t that telling) But let me give it a shot anyway and share some thoughts on the matter. Heck – it might even turn into advice. I mean, that’s what we’re here for after all, am I right?!

I’m not aware of your professional background, but each time I tell a person operating in other professional fields that I am an artist, the question you have asked sure is the first question I always get: “... Oh! and… do you earn money with that?”, or “can you live from it”? Naturally, this is more often than not posed rhetorically; as if to say “Oh, don't bother – we all know the answer is no!” Indeed, art valued in monetary terms legitimises its artistic realness. It makes you not just an artist —read: hobbyist— but a professional artist.real artist!

Watch out though, don’t be too professional. ‘Cause navigating poverty and survival is glorified and romanticised as part of true artistic life too! It’s a source of necessary pain, without which artistic output is taken less seriously and met with suspicion… you know, “precarity gives birth to creativity”, “no art without suffering”, “trauma feeds the artist” and whatnot. What a load of horsehit (pardon my French). I can tell you: poverty-induced stress, or any stress for that matter, is hardly ever a good foundational condition for creativity to gloriously flourish in luscious artistic richness.

But come to think of it, earning money with one’s art not only legitimises it as art: it legitimises it as work. There are, in fact, many human activities that we do not value as work, which is also true when it comes to making art. Artistic production is still mystified as something that “overcomes” us, as if “it” — the art — is breathed into our bodies by some sort of higher power that takes the reins and magically (in a stroke of genius) moulds material into sculpture, sounds into music, words into poetry, etc.

And the amount of drive, of will needed to work with such dangerously unpredictable and uncontrollable superpowers can come from one place only. Naturally, it comes from a place of LOVE. All artists LOVE their work. They are productive because they love what they do obsessively and simply have to do their thing, right?! We just can’t help it! Precisely for this reason —and in keeping with people doing domestic, care, or activist labour— artists and artworkers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and wage-theft. You know, it’s what. we do. for love!!! Not to mention the untold value ruthlessly cannibalised and squeezed from artists’ work; from the gentrification of entire neighbourhoods upping housing prices to filling the coffers and vaults of billionaires who play art patron for tax write-offs since the catholic church and monarchies no longer can.

Fun fact: other industries have long understood that mystifying work and turning it into all things “passion”, “love” and “play” is the perfect recipe for exploiting workers, while making sure the entirety of their identity is made out of, yup, you guessed it: work. “Do what you love!” they say, “and you will never work a day in your life!" In a neoliberal capitalism that totalises work, the artist, it turns out, is the ideal, model worker! Who’d’ve thought that! Lol, you’re all being tricked into becoming risk-taking, innovative, disruptor-creatives with a flexible attitude towards constant precarity and a healthy passion for your profession.

(OMG actually imagine! A world without WORK! A world in which “making a living” actually means “life-making”!)

But ok ok; jokes aside… Truth be told, decent remuneration for artistic work and for work in the cultural sector at large remains utterly rare and a constant battle. Of course, those of us who who are lucky enough to have time to write funding applications are blessed with a robust Dutch funding infrastructure (tysm Mondriaan/Stimfonds!). But it’s the money that artists hustle through endless side-gigs —as Oatly-foaming-natural wine-pouring-hummus-servers— that actually largely funds culture in the Netherlands. For now, the Dutch cultural sector is a mess of government policies that use the hobbyist trope to further defund arts education and transfer the cost to its art workers. And a recent study shows it remains one of the most conservative of all the professional sectors, with an absolutely staggering gender pay gap of … [drum roll please] 50%. Fifty fucking percent!  Guess we shouldn’t be too surprised, considering that the value of all women’s art ever sold in the history of mankind is still less than the value of all the work ever sold by Picasso. Still less than the value of one, single, male, artist. But hey, the meritocracy determines market value, amiright?

So. My dear, desperate art lover, you want my advice on how to make a living as an artist?

10 WAYS TO MAKE A LIVING AS AN ARTIST

1. Be or become a male artist.
2. Get hired by a successful artist to make their work. Studios always need workhorses.
3. Take credit for the work of others and become a badboy genius.
4. Bluff on your CV: You say Barista? I say research based latte-art exploring AI and uses of the blockchain in ethical bean supply-chains and fairpay.
5. Be born into a wealthy family and enjoy your nepobaby privilege.
6. Be a cultural sector ninja and use your flexible adaptable cold-calling go-getter potential to trickle-up money from the service class into the creative industries. (Aka, fund your art-practice with your side-gigs.)
7. Don’t have kids, if you’re a person with a uterus.
8. Size matters: make sellable, above-the-couch-sized paintings only. (And stay out of politics!)
9. Become an artfluencer; those NFT’s won’t sell themselves baby! Or start a meme-account and sell merch, full time.
10. Stay young and upcoming, forever.

Well. Think you’re the right man for the job? Wishing you best of luck!

Love,

Noa  ????☣️☠️????????

P.s. I do love my work. Totally worth the fight ;)