The Unemployed Complain of Selling Out

Artists are notorious for saying that money should not factor into art. However, it is typically the unemployed (or those who have yet to enter the market and face its realities) who are saying it.

Those that are regularly working and receiving income (making a living) are rarely complaining about the value that people assign to their artistic contributions.

There are so many artists who are regularly unemployed or underemployed. It is so easy to understand their motivations to speak about selling out. They do so, as they are not making money. So, those who do…must be selling out. So many egos…

This sort of thinking leads to a romanticized notion of starving (or the starving artist), a stereotype we must get past. There is nothing romantic about not being able to pay the bills.

“Survival jobs” rob us of our energy and ability to create in a more full and regular fashion. After all, each of us only has so much energy in a day.

When artists make a living from their art, they steal away from the bars and restaurants in which they often work. Instead, their artistic and creative contributions are being shared with their communities, with paying audiences, with people who appreciate their work and pay for it, consequently.

People who pay for art do so because they perceive value in the product or experience. The artist who creates for such an audience is not selling out, they are creating value for others. That is not selfish, but quite the opposite.

Those who complain about selling out, I would ask them what value they have to offer. If they are not making a living from their craft, why? What are they (or are they not) doing? From my perspective, we can only fault them so much. I put a lot of blame on the educational institutions, as they know about this problem and regularly fail to address it in any significant way.

If one is only creating for them selves (the artist), is that not a form of self massage? What contribution are you making to your fellow man and woman? In what ways are your gifts shared? It may feel good to create for yourself, but is that not a sort of journal entry? Can’t a balance be found between societal contribution and journal entry creations?

Some believe that if good work is created, that audiences will somehow find them. That is a naïve perspective. Talent is not enough. Working hard is not enough. But, if you have talent and work hard…and know how to market the value you can offer to your audience, you increase your chances of avoiding a career as a bartender or waiter and that is the goal of TITAN Teaterskole, the school I built in Oslo, Norway and that is the goal of ACPA, which launches this year.

We are working to create a new standard in American and Norwegian theatrical training—a standard that leads to value creation and employment of artists (via their own initiative or through others).

Jim Hart is the founder and Rektor of The International Theatre Academy Norway and the Dean of Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts.

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