State Supported Artists…

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.

52 comments

  1. Are they actually going to produce any art?

    I do not envy the writer told that he must produce a book a quarter.

      1. Walter B. Gibson, auther of The Shadow pulps, produced two (short) novels a month, with a very few breaks provided by other pinch-hitting authors, for over a decade. And they were, mostly, pretty darned good.

        1. The guy who wrote under Max Brand (and apparently several other names) did similar things. It was a common thing in the pulp Era, which people seem to forget.

    1. Don’t tell Dean Wesley Smith or Craig Martelle they’re only to produce a book a quarter. Those guys are turning out a book or three every month (or equivalent amount of short stories — DWS was doing a short a day for a while as part of a writing dare, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was also working on some longer projects).

      1. But they are self-motivated, not shoved from above. I could do a Familiars book every three months, a Merchant book every four months, if that was all I had to do and had full research materials on hand. However, I’m not being ordered to produce “proper works of literature.” There’s nothing like being commanded to kill my creativity.

      2. IIRC, Dean’s original challenge was a short story a day and a novel a month. Last I heard, he was a little behind on the short stories. Not sure about the novels.

        1. Depends on which challenge (he does lots of them). He had a “Short story a day” challenge that he was doing for a while (while also doing novels.) The Challenge for Smith’s Monthly was “Can I fill a pulp magazine all by myself?” A novel and about 3-4 short stories every month. He was behind for a while, then caught back up when he got through moving to Vegas. I THINK he’s still caught up on the Monthly but I haven’t checked in a while. I know he said he had a couple years worth of shorts built up by the time he got back to it after the Vegas move.

      3. Well, they would have to. Otherwise they would shut out other writers by saturating the market. It’s only fair.

    2. Mary Renault had an appropriate comment in “The Praise Singer.” I can’t quote exactly, but it went something like, “If you are told what you cannot say, you are still half free; wholly free if you never wanted to say it. But to be told what you must say, then you are not free (and it’s the death of your voice).”

  2. I suspect it comes with a large, clear ‘Dave Freer need not apply’ sticker.

    Do you get any points for being an African-Australian? Or writing about things from a specifically Austraian perspective, such as having aborigine characters? Or do you need to be a wealthy urbanite to count as a starving artist? The last at least makes some sense, because I expect you can obtain food anywhere except for a desert (either the real one that is most of Australia’s area, or the concrete one where most green voters live).

    Of course, if they are looking for prose that praises the nanny state, I have a hard time seeing that coming from you. Although a satire on the subject might be hillarious.

    1. I saw a headline yesterday saying Australia has passed a law making it illegal to grow your own food. I was looking for something else on a deadline and didn’t read the article. Dave, do you know anything about that?

      1. It’s the state? Province? Territory? of Victoria.
        It hasn’t gone national. Yet.

          1. Sorry for the delay in replying. I’m snowed under grading final exams. This wasn’t the link I saw, but it’s more detailed.

  3. I’ve been writing for over 25 years and have had over 40 books published. In all those years my annual take has been less than I would get from Social Security. When I am asked to speak to teen groups about being a professional writer, my first piece of advice is “don’t quit the day job.”

    The big problem writers face is their product is normally demand limited. – not enough people willing to pay enough for what you produce. What makes it particularly seductive is it is easy to sell a book annually at a price that – if you could get it monthly – would support you in comfort. (And I could churn out a book a month of a good quality, because I enjoy the work,) But except for a very few authors (Andrew Wareham comes to mind) you cannot find enough people to buy your books on a monthly basis. Or even publishers. I have one go-to publisher that will buy four books from me a year, but not 12,

    1. ‘”It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in possession of a novel in progress, must be in want of a Day Job.”

      Honestly, if I won the lottery, or captured lightning in the form of the top spot on the USA today list (since that measures actual sales, not the curated narrative of the NYT list), I’d still keep Day Job. I like my Day Job. I like the structure it gives me, and the contact with people who are very different from me, and the opportunity to make people’s lives better. People who spend too little time in contact with nature and humanity, except via the funhouse mirror of the internet, get off kilter, emotionally, mentally, and in many other ways. We used to call them shut-ins and recognize this.

  4. One fictional scheme for state supported artists/authors had would-be artists/authors supported by heavy taxes on the successful artists/authors (the more successful you were, the more you paid in taxes).

    One such successful author complained that he worked very hard but he saw too many would-be’s talking about the great works they were capable of but not doing any work (while living off of his money).

  5. Most days, you may identify as a White male, right-handed, Christian, married with children. But those are not ‘facts,’ those are subjective ‘cultural constructs’ which you can change at whim. On the day you fill out the Grant Application, be sure to note you ‘presently’ identify as a left-handed Black trans-woman in a lesbian relationship founded on a deep spiritual appreciation of Gaia and dedicated to protecting Mother Earth from the ravages of climate change caused by Western Civilization, and also that you are ‘presently’ suffering from untreated PTSD from several horrifying incidents of oppression in your past which you intend to relate in your next novel, if only you could afford to write it. Which is why you deserve a grant. Be sure to use a suitable replacement for your ‘slave name.’

    The day after the grant deposit clears, you can ‘identify’ back to whatever you like.

    1. That grant would never be funded because you don’t talk about the evils of the patriarchy in the applicsation.TWY2-REJRRJ-WKAM

  6. After doing their damnedest to turn the down under back into a prison colony, how the hell are any of them getting votes?
    (Besides Dominion, and box-stuffing apparatchiks, that is.)

    1. Mostly because A. a lot of people wouldn’t mind living in a jail cell, as long as they could get laid, get high, and get three square meals a day; B. Australia’s COVID numbers look fantastic. The fact that they could have gotten said numbers without the heavy-handed tactics completely escapes the general public; and C. also remember that there are people who are very enthused by the idea of being prison guards.

  7. How To Create A Nation Of Damian Walters — a British ‘author’ given a £10,000 grant to write a Great Novel about 15 years ago. Still hasn’t published a word.

    I can’t help suspecting the British taxpayers got their money’s worth by paying Damian NOT to write…
    ———————————
    Long ago, when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks they called it witchcraft. Now they call it golf.

    1. No, not a bribe, because it’s not meant to change the writers’ behavior; it’s a reward for writers who have the proper sociopolitical opinions. Maybe it technically counts as a kickback?

  8. *snicker* Oh, yes, I remember Frau Blucher – my, how the time flies when you are having fun, tormenting a European pseudo-intellectual who doesn’t know nearly as much as she thinks she did…
    And I agree with Imaginos … the British reading public probably got their money’s worth by Damien Walters NOT writing the great modern novel…

    1. Ah yes, I chanced to read some comments from Frau Blucher recently. She’s progressed in her Progressiveness to calling for government harshitude on her political opponents. (That would be us, in case that wasn’t clear.)

      Now, you would think a German woman of her generation would at least hesitate to demand government power be used to silence other people in a free nation, people who merely expressed an opinion. The Germans of all people would have to know better. Right? But no, she’s not the least bit shy.

      And yes, Britain and indeed the world may well be a better place for Little Damian not being published.

  9. I think Theodore Dalrymple wrote extensively about how decades of the dole did not produce artists, writers, poets or musicians. If it’s not already in you, desperate to be expressed, lounging around on someone else’s dime won’t make it come out.

    I’m making creativity sound like a boil.

    1. “I’m making creativity sound like a boil.”
      I actually laughed out loud for real at this. From all accounts (here and elsewhere) a story that insists on being written is somewhat like a boil to the poor sufferer of such. It’s uncomfortable, you can’t think about much else, and once you’ve either lanced the boil, or finished the story, the relief is immense!

      1. Bingo! I start leaking story bits into my reality. This is . . . not a good thing when driving. Really not a good thing. The world is safer if I can get these things onto the page or screen.

        1. The story bits aren’t so bad, they tend to make life more interesting. But my family members get unaccountably irritated when I start speaking in iambic pentameter.

    2. I’m remembering some would-be writers at my tiny liberal arts college (Progressive before it was a thing!). They would write some “amazing” pages – 2-3, usually – and INSIST on reading it to you, right then. Funny, they never seemed to progress beyond that point, completing a book.
      That’s a big part of why I’m allergic to showing people my work-in-progress. I want to at least have a first draft before I solicit any opinions.

  10. The disparity in writer incomes falls under the Gini coefficient. The more popular writers will earn more, the least a lot less. However, whether this is a fair distribution depends on confounding variables.

    But, I think that I’d rather live in a world where I earned a little income because the economy was unfair than one where I earned a little income because the economy was fair: because then I’d know that it was my fault my work sucked.

    PS: Arguably my work sucks (insert reasons here), rather than not appealing to a wide enough audience, which is my excuse. 😉

  11. “Australian novels will soon be as popular as… GDR ones, especially with the school-kids forced to read them.”

    We’ve had this situation in Canada since roughly the 1970s. ‘Canadian Content’ you know. It has produced people like Margaret Atwood and Marian Engel, whose books are the most pretentious twaddle imaginable. All one need do is read “The Handmaid’s Tail” to know all that is needful about ‘Canadian Content’ and Canadian publishing. That one is the biggest hit they’ve ever had. Popular these days because of Trump-hatred.

    How it works up here is this: you go to university and become a Favorite of a professor with connections. There are a few ways to do that, being a good writer is not generally one of them. (Being a cute girl is the best way. Nudge, wink, say no more.)

    Having achieved Favorite status, you must get an Arts Council grant for your book. Once you and your Ivory Tower patron manage this feat of schmoozing (nudge wink) then you can finally get an agent and a publisher.

    No agent or publisher will even talk to you if you don’t have an Arts patron and a grant. The reason given is that Canadian books never earn out, which is certainly true. A ‘national blockbuster’ sells 2000 copies and a ‘hit’ sells 500.

    So how the hell is there still a Canadian publishing establishment you ask? Simple: Canada Arts Council. The government literally owns the entire art community. Lock, stock and two smokin’ barrels.

    1. Dang! I’m pretty sure that Leacock never got one of those grants, so I’d better toss out any of his works in my collection. And you’ve got a building to rename, McGill!

      1. From Wikipedia:

        “The Canada Council for the Arts was established and began operations in 1957 as part of a major recommendation of the 1951 report by the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, commonly known as the Massey Commission.[1]

        The report described an unpromising cultural landscape in Canada: professional theatre was “moribund;” the musical space was meager; professional artistic ventures were lacking and virtually absent outside of the largest urban areas; and English Canada produced only 14 works of fiction in an entire year.[1] Moreover, the report stated:[1]

        No novelist, poet, short story writer, historian, biographer, or other writer of non-technical books can make even a modestly comfortable living by selling his work in Canada. No composer of music can live at all on what Canada pays him for his compositions. Apart from radio drama, no playwright, and only a few actors and producers, can live by working in the theatre in Canada.” Gifted Canadians “must be content with a precarious and unrewarding life in Canada, or go abroad where their talents are in demand.”

        Sounds -exactly- like the Aussie one, doesn’t it? But this is from 1957. It’s like they saw what Hitler was doing, liked it and started doing it at home.

  12. Sadly, you’re probably right Dave. Folks who actually NEED the stipend will never see a penny, while those in ‘favor’ will become MORE favored…

    1. Don’t you mean “Folks who would actually do something useful with the stipend will never see a penny”?

      All the money will go to ‘authors’ who fantasize about writing but never actually write, or even took the trouble to learn anything about writing.

      I never learned anything about writing until I started writing. Now I know a little about writing.

    2. Yeah. Inevitably. Look, they could (maybe) by letting the market decide, help. But that would be complex, and give them no control over the ‘artist’s’ output. So: it’ll be a grab-bag of all the fashionable ‘victims’ with no interest in quality.

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