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Jonny - thanks for this. Interesting thoughts.

I think the internet / blogs have brought huge new opportunities for artists. Though in order to make a living one needs to invest quite a lot of time into the business / marketing side of things as well as the art side of things. But then I suspect I 'sold out' a long time ago...

Ben Hanbury

Interesting article Jonny, it often seems to me that as an artist if the aim of your work is to sell it as a commodity then you will probably make stuff which is less original, inspiring etc. and will probably sell less ... where as if the aim of your work is to be a gift you suddenly free yourself from all sorts of contraints like what you think people will buy and will probably make better work as a result which will sell more?

Also I think Banksy is interesting because the aim of his work seems to be to challenge people's precepts on society and culture - some of my favourite work of his other than the palestine wall painting was the recent Paris Hilton CD stunt and the Boadicea wheel clamp thing ... But this seems to me to be different to artists like say the Chapman brothers who in my opinion would use shock tactics just as a way of getting publicity which will add commercial value to their work?


Interesting post. Writing from the perspective of reading only this post I have to say this.

What is selling out? When I was younger in the early 80's I loved punk and new wave music. Today I go to my local grocery and New Order is blaring from the loudspeakers. (Ian Curtis is probably spinning in his grave) At one time they were cutting edge not considered posers at all. Of course there were still folks who consdered them sell-outs even back then. Usually by the musicians who were floundering in obscurity.

I have lived on the ragged edge, always one step ahead of the landlord, can't say I liked it much. Of course there are good memories from that time, but nothing I would totally romanticize.

Fighting selling out is a noble ideal when you are young. It's not so noble in your thirties.



Considering I just had a conversation with my wife 15 minutes ago about how poor we are and it must be God helping us to relate to the people we serve at Revolution, this totally hits home.
Most of the people are artistic in some way (music, acting, art, etc)...

Thanks for edifying me in my poverty! :-)

jon birch

go joel, go!
if you love money... if you measure success by what you can afford and how many cars, houses and swimming pools you have... don't become an artist! if, however, you have stuff to say and a creative way of saying it, even if it's not what the majority wants to here... and if you have a burning need to express yourself creatively and don't mind having less spending money than your mates, then the artists life is for you!
integrity won't bring financial reward in itself, neither will the quality of your work.
patronage used to be alive and kicking in the church... sadly, that's no longer true.
i'm fortunate... i'm making some kind of living being me... and in my professional work i tend to work for causes where the budgets are lower than they would be in the commercial world. sometimes i think, 'what am i doing... i could be rich!" but mostly i think, 'no, this is what i choose to do!" i made my decision when i was a bit older than joel... i was in my first professional advertising job... and i thought, 'you know what... other peoples cans of beans are just not important enough to me. that's not what i care about.'
there were no mentors for me... nobody i knew who'd done the same thing... there was no map... just a kind of god given (i believe) self belief.
i am self employed... but i'm rubbish at business... but why would i be good at it? i wonder how many business people are great at art!
here's a radical idea. rich people put a portion of their income aside to patronise an artist. all you leaders and ministers out there, challenge the wealthy in your congregation to support someone who has something to say... tell them, they may well see no financial reward for their act, but do it anyway for the good health of everyone!
so much of what we know about the past and the way we were has been given to us by artists, writers, painters, musicians, sculptors etc... do we really only value historical christian artists! if the answer is 'no', then it is important that as a christian community we put food on the artists table so that he/she can get on with their calling, as i said above, for the good health of everyone!
are these just the ramblings of a madman, or do i have a point?


I'll throw this in, God has granted us all certain gifts. There are christians who are very astute in business, they dole out a lot of cash to the church and other ministries. There are those who don't make so much who dole out a lot of time to their church and other ministries.

I am self employed and have the freedom to concentrate more on the mission God has given me. There is a cost to that. I am on the ragged edge a lot. But that is where He wants me right now.

I have to surrender to that every day. Thats ok, well, most of the time. Until my wife's security gland starts freaking out..


Chad Brooks

when certain friends of mine come into town to spend a few days with my family, we dream about maybe one day all living in the same place again and starting a church. One of the things that we really dream about it to have the space and money to give artist's several years of living expense's in exchange for a very small number of works for the communities use. This would allow them the amount of time for them to spend on developing "their" style, and not worry about living. We really got the idea from the US work program in the 30's when most of the artist's in the New York School (abstract expressionism..pollack...etc.) painted for a salary and gave WHATEVER they made to the government.

I guess this somewhat mirror's a sort of patron system, but also hopefully spending time with the artist developing their style in light of their faith and life living inside the incarnation.


Art as gift or commodity is not mutually incompatible.
Some of the recent campaigns by groups such as Amnesty have been truly awe inspiring as they have used images that convey their powerful messages. Art in it's widest form has been ignored by church for too long and we need to understand its power and use in worship. Use your gifts - they are from God!
I enjoy looking at this website to see what some of the ad agencies are putting out. It includes some the Amnesty stuff


thanks for the comments everyone... jon you should post your comment as a blog post in its own right!

jon birch

i have now blogged it!
my main point is still to encourage leaders to challenge the rich... artists themselves cannot do it, because it will always sound like begging...
i believe that the church has a responsibility towards the nurture of artists... it should not be optional.
an irritation of mine is that as an artist you are expected to be good at making money... this is not the case for a nurse, a doctor, a teacher, so why an artist? the only reason this can possibly be, is that we simply do not value the role of the artist... do we even understand the point of the artist anymore? if we don't, then what a poor and dowdy lot we have all become, with few ways of saying anything meaningful to the world at large. this is a serious issue.
i've blogged this too!


Joel has a wise head on his shoulders.

Artists may be poor, but 'advertising makes us all poor'.

However, I'd have to disagree with Jon that artists don't make money because we don't properly understand what they do. Artists can't be salaried precisely because their work is in 'the gift'. Their work is 'useless'.

If you want salaried work, then you're a craftsman... Which I think is an interesting split. How did art rise away from crafts? And why? It surely has to do with humankind's increasing wealth, that gave time for people to pursue such non-vital work like reflecting on the soul.

jon birch

it is in the very thinking of art as 'non vital' that the mistake is made.
health practitioners all over the world now are recognising the healing and preventative benefits of the arts, both consumed and participatory... anyone who has experienced art could have told them that years ago. michelangelo was an artist, one of the greatest and many of his works were commisioned by the church... same with beethoven, even though he was not a professing christian, it was a rich russian christian who funded him and only asked for one piece of work in return, his requiem. these are just famous examples of artists being supported, there are many thousands of others.
artist know their craft, otherwise their art doesn't get made. kings, emperors, christendom etc. have all had artists as well as craftsmen on their payrolls throughout history.
crafts people are paid for their work, whether by business, individuals or the church and their work ranges from practical and foundational to decorative, the work of the craftsman is very broad. the job of the artist on the other hand is to say something... whether it is to say that henry 8th is a fab king, or henry 8th is the scourge of the planet... christians should be funding the arts because of its power to communicate so powerfully.
parables are art... word paintings... the message being all the more interesting for the pictures described. without the practical support of friends around him christ would have starved. but he had supporters who put food in his belly.
art has become a sideshow for the church... but, for the most part, so has god and his creation... so i guess it's not surprising that the artist is not properly valued.
and, since when was art about 'reflecting on the soul'. that seems to be an utterly dualistic and reductionalist view of what art is... good art can and should speak into the practical, political, everyday concerns of normal struggling humanity. this is not optional stuff for a church that has any desire to relate to the world around it. as i said, this is serious stuff.


I think we are probably differing on semantics... I know what you mean about art being 'vital', but it's not at the ground level of something like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. People die because of lack of food, shelter and water. No one died through lack of art.

It is, however, 'serious stuff'. And what I think 'reflecting on the soul' is is not a dualistic thing - precisely the opposite. While no one died directly through lack of art, no one can become fully human without it. But, like relationships that are also 'vital', it has to remain in the gift. To reduce it to a salaried position is akin to prostitution: paying for something that should be part of a totally different economy.

So I'd still hold that while artists don't deserve destitution, and do deserve our support, they also have to appreciate the economy they are working in and the sacrifices that that entails. We pay politicians handsomely in order to prevent their corruption. We don't pay artists handsomely for the same reason ;-)

jon birch

i don't understand why paying an artist makes them anything like a protistute... unless they are protistuting themselves as many creatives do to something less than what they believe (we've all done it!). if anything, payment rescues them from prostition.
just talking about art puts us in a place where the basics of maslow's hierarchy of needs are already catered for... art is something engaged in when there is food on the table. and for those with food on the table to think as art as anything other than vital is ludicrous... it is vital to communication, vital to emotional wellbeing, vital to asking questions and the comprehension of ideas, it is vital to political life, vital to understanding history, vital to imagining the future... granted, all these things take place when there is food on the table, but that is the position from which we're having this debate.
over the centuries, people have been killed for making art, many works of art have been destroyed, many artist have been imprisoned for not towing the party line... some people out there think that art is vital! and some people clearly think that it is a life and death issue...

Iain Cotton

I think that the gift/commerce dichotomy is really unhelpful because it puts making money and making art in opposition. It reinforces the idea that artists shouldnt be paid or that if they are paid then their art is somehow diminished. How do you win here? historicaly before art became Art People made it as part of the fabric of life for the church or the aristocracy or the merchant classes. it was commissioned and payed for and plenty of it was good and some of it managed to be very great. In my own practice i dont get to make much art because i cant afford it - being poor doesnt make me a good artist it just means i cant afford to make Art. What i do then is work as a craftsman, for which i do get paid, and it may be that when the final curtain comes down what i make for money may turn out to be the best art i make.
Whilst art making isnt usually motivated by the bottom line artist in my experience hope to and need to make money out of it for the activity to be sustainable in the long term. So what characterizes art is its aesthetic nature (yes i know this is a slippery subject!) rather than its gift nature, Art can therefore be both aesthetic and economic. Lets put to death the image of the romantic artist working for nothing in his garret and promote the image of the artist as highly educated skilled practiciener contributing to society and worthy of being paid accordingly!


i wasn't trying to say art couldn't or shouldn't be sold - hyde says that art can and does circulate in both economies. the point is what is at the heart of making art - gift rather than money making. perhaps it relates to the spirit in which we create? i like your point about aesthetics... i certainly don't want to romanticise the poor artist - but i know a lot of artists who struggle.

Dave K

I think the musician Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner - www.scannerdot.com ) is another artist who is successfully negotiating this whole tension.

Daniel Miller

I just like how your permalink is "artists_are_poo"


ha! nice one...

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    i have been blogging for a decade or more in fairly eclectic fashion. i am an advocate for pioneers, lover of all things creative, an explorer of faith in relation to contemporary culture, a photographer and writer. explore the presences section below to find me in other spaces

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