i had a conversation with joel yesterday about what he wants to after a-levels. he is brilliant at art/design and is thinking of doing a foundation year at an art college when the time comes and then some kind of art degree. he did work experience a while back at one of the uk's leading advertising agencies and had a good time. but i was interested to hear him reflecting on that and thinking if he did art that he really didn't want to end up somewhere like that. i may be stretching the conversation for the sake of making a point (and the gift was very much in my mind when we spoke) but i think joel was sensing the tension between art as gift and art as commodity/commerce in service of the market.
a dilemma for every artist is how to do your art and survive when your art probably isn't going to make you money or not a lot. hyde suggests that that issue is resolved one of three ways - artists take second jobs to support their art; they get patrons who sponsor their art (and of course those patrons money comes from the market economy as well); or they manage to create some income via fees and royalties. but whatever way they do we all know that
no matter how the artist chooses or is forced to resolve the problem of his livelihood he is likely to be poor.
artists who are rich are the exception and if they do find a way to make some money everyone starts having a go at them for selling out! the most famous artists often only make money and are really recognised after they are dead!
banksy is an interesting example of an artist living with the tension of both gift and market economies. as a stencil artist nearly all of his art has been gift, sprayed on walls for anyone to see, often subversive and cheeky. he must have lived hand to mouth for years or earned money by day to buy spray paint for his art by night. but in recent years he has become famous and has worked out how to make some money from his art - he's published several booklets and one larger book, sells limited edition screen prints, and banksy originals now fetch quite a sum. i read an interview with him where he was asked about this and he replied that it was frustrating to sell something for £100 and then see it on e-bay for 10 times that the next day so you just up the price. there are also plenty of places to buy a banksy print that is a photo someone else has taken of one of his stencils which i guess is inevitable.
i have sensed recently that people who loved banksy's stuff have started feeling as though he shouldn't be entering the market in this way. but i think he is a shining example of someone who keeps the spirit of gift alive. he keeps doing free stuff - gift out in the streets. even the stuff that people are buying is endued with the spirit of gift in my view. i loved the gift of his stencils on the apartheid wall in palestine. and i was delighted to see that he has a shop on his web site that is full of free stuff - images that you can download at a high enough resolution to make a desktop or print (well a small print). you can feel the tension though between gift and market but he seems to have found a way of keeping the gift alive and turning market wealth back into gift wealth.
it's made me realise what a hard time we can give underground artists of any description whose art is for sale in some way, even though the chances are most of those artists will struggle. i think we should do everything we can to support artists and encourage them to develop and pass on their gifts and work with the spirit of gift very much alive. after all, our culture doesn't help artists, and i think the church doesn't see the point in supporting artists or chooses to invest elsewhere. creativity and art are some of the greatest gifts.
i was also thinking about proost which we set up to be a way we could pass on the gifts of alternative worship, our own music and art, and that of other artists to a wider audience. but of course it circulates in the market and gift economies. we are currently revamping it for later this year. the gift has helped me realise just how important it is that the heart of what it is about must be gift even though there are commercial transactions - and i hope that it does genuinely continue to be a site where the spirit of gift is alive and artists can offer their gifts to a wider audience as well as converting some market wealth back into support their art through transactions that take place there.
we're crap at making money and always have been so the gift has encouraged me that we might well be artists...