The image of the starving artist/writer/musician in the garret has existed for a long, long time. So has the fact, in many cases. In many cases, too, at the same time as producing books or art or music that endured and is loved by millions. In sf, H Beam Piper springs to mind, but the list is quite long – especially if you include those who struggled with paying the bills and lived the lives of relative paupers… while others did pretty well off their work.
Of course… there were also the others who tried, found the money was lousy or non-existent, and moved on. Maybe they had great talent. Maybe they didn’t. They vanished.
You know who else vanished? Well, in all those Communist states, USSR satellites, there were producers of state-sanctioned books, and art and music. They were paid by the state, and inevitably came from the well-connected communist party members, or were their children. They did NOT starve. They were the upper crust of communist society, as long as they stuck to the state narrative. We even had one of them – let’s call her Frau Blucher, come and attack MGC about eight years back. The spoiled daughter of a senior East German apparatchik, left rudderless by the end of Communism there, she was finding life hard as just an ordinary person, and had attached herself firmly to the nearest she could find to the arts culture of her origins – Left Wing American Traditional publishing. In my belief in the wisdom of Sun Tzu, I actually bothered to go and look at one of her ‘works’. I understand how badly she must have missed communist command economy as a result. The dahlings of the establishment she was trying to attach herself to, were generally mediocre (because politics and connections tended to get them in and get their work promoted) but she… gave them a run for their money – not in the right direction either. Life, I gather, since the end of her communist sponsored ‘special one’ status, had not been kind, and she had to work at other things. She was bitter about this.
Look, truth be told, 90% of those who set out to be ‘writers’ or ‘artists’ or ‘musicians’ will give it up. It is hard, and frankly, not ‘fair’ in that getting recognition is not always directly related to quality. Some of that, in every field, is connections. Some of it relates to ability in promoting yourself. Some of it is luck. Without SOME skill – as defined ‘popular with an audience’ those alone are seldom going to push you to the very top of the sales. Mediocre skill – and you have all of the connections, you promote yourself well, and you are lucky and in the right place at the right time – you can do reasonably.
Of the 10 percent who battle their way through, without the connections, self-promotion ability, and the luck… their skill at writing or music or art is probably substantive. That may well not be enough to make a enough to live on, and many will struggle on for years, or do this as a side-gig, or be supported by a partner or family. A very tiny proportion of those will make it to being self-supporting – even on thin commons. Maybe 1 in 50 of those will get reasonably comfortable, earning what they could earn with the same effort if they’d chosen another path (I earn about 1/4 what I would if I had stuck Science career), and maybe 1 in ten thousand get to being very wealthy.
If you get to the stage of being self-supporting – especially if you had no connections, big lucky breaks or real self-promotion ability… no two ways about it, you’re real talent. Your talents are as far beyond the state sponsored ‘artist’ as the moon is above the earth. In some cases that moon is Hydra.
We’re heading into elections here, and our third largest party – The Greens – a largely wealthy urban party supposedly all about the environment, but considered to be as far left on all issues as you get – may well be the swing party. They, bless their hearts, are concerned about the arts, music, art, and yes writing. They feel ‘artists’ can’t make a living, and as result we will do without Australian paintings, novels etc. (yes novels specifically mentioned). They – if elected – plan to provide a living wage of more than 700 Australian dollars a week, to support IIRC up to 10 000 artists.
That, frankly, is more than I have earned a year, many a year. Some years a lot more! I consider myself one of the tiny proportion that could (if I wasn’t fighting the attempts of local government bureaucrats – who would consider this poverty – to bleed me white) who make a living, but thin commons. I doubt if there are 50 other novelists in the country doing as well or better, and 100 seems unlikely.
If this happens: What the hell is that going to do to our selection process? And just who will choose those 10 000? (guess?) And on what criteria? (guess. Long odds ‘skill’ will not even enter the list?) Whatever. I suspect it comes with a large, clear ‘Dave Freer need not apply’ sticker.
Australian novels will soon be as popular as… GDR ones, especially with the school-kids forced to read them.
Image: Pixabay, royalty free requiring no attribution.