I was asked to write a piece on what my muse is for an upcoming show, “Confronting the Muse” happening in Berlin early January. After I wrote the following paragraph I got to thinking: the idea of muses can really mess with an artists’ head, especially when it comes to taking payment or credit for your work.
“I’ve always suffered from something close to imposter syndrome, but it’s not so much I feel I shouldn’t get credit for my work – it’s rather that I’m amnesiac to making anything in the first place. The good stuff particularly. The ego can etch and scratch away at some topic or idea for months and you’re left with a steaming pile of waste at the end. While other times it’s as if you wake up in the middle of creating something beyond your abilities – and your job then is only to trap it. Like a fisherman will honour, fear and respect the sea – that’s the relationship to the hand of creation, for me. A relationship I intuit more than understand, but honour and abide by its rules of silence and duty to craft, lest it leave me with nothing. Call it love, call it Stockholm Syndrome – the muse is at the centre of everything I ever did worth showing. A person can bring about inspiration, but only a muse can deliver its result. An ego inherently wants to put the artist as the centre-piece, but nothing that convoluted ever comes out good. I never wrote anything true about myself. The muse has, though. You know as it’s often very hard to face.”
This idea of Muses is a giant reason why artists, I feel, struggle so much when it comes to asking for payment. After all, if the muses really do deliver the goods, then why should the artist reap the rewards?
It’s odd in general being an artist, your hours are all over the place, down time is essential but short-coming, you work endless hours and at the end – you’re expected to love what you’re doing so much, payment is almost considered taboo. The act in itself should be payment and enjoyment enough. This sentiment is so engrained in society, artists at times fall for it themselves offering their services too cheap or being too sheepish to know their worth.
This notion that artists work is its own reward comes from a well-intentioned place, as everyone is at their core an artist of some sort. All children grapple with coloured crayons, sing off-key and act as their natural modus operandi. But, eventually kids see the light and give up on this way of being – some early, some later, and only very few adults go beyond hobby and venture into making art their living. The remnants of the love for creating, though, are still remembered and the expectation that making art is nothing but joy remains a lasting associative memory of making art.
Because of this association, those who actually become professional artists are so often perceived as childish dreamers, delusional or, at worst, demented. But rather, anyone who’s actually making art full time has more in common with a small business owner than anyone else. Admin is never-ending. Capital is raised only to be absorbed by the next venture. Days off are non-existent. And stress is ever-lasting. This is what living on art entails. And it’s for want of a better phrase – fucking brutal.
Anyone who actually does it is doing so out of a will that is beyond drastic and beyond sense. Relationships hang by a thread. Money looms as a constant peril-inducing source of anxiety and worse: your family and friends are worried. Real worried. And, well, they should be. This is a gamble that most likely will not pay off in the typical sense. Most artists will fail. Just as most start-up businesses fail.
But, start-ups don’t suffer the idea that their love of their idea and craft is payment enough. And so professional artists should be afforded the same. The good stuff may come as if a gift from the muse, but the grafting, the admin, the practice, the stress and chaos of getting to that point lands solely on the artist’s shoulders.
For exposure, the fun of it, or a favour are all reasons people use to get artists to work for free. When the opportunity for an artist’s input arises please insist on paying them – as so often artists, themselves won’t push for payment. That’s their own hang-up, and hopefully wanes with the first debt collector’s letter, but if not, push on their behalf. The muses will thank you.
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