“Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
When you look at the careers of modern, successful artists they seem to fall into one of two categories. What I like to call the “fuck you pay me” crowd and the uncompromising visionary crowd.
The first group tend to be working artists who went to college, got into the competitive market, saw all the BS that gets thrown around and said, “Right, I’ve done some math and I need x returns on my investment.” They become artists for hire, taking any work that pays well enough and ascend to their throne of 401Ks and medical insurance.
The second group tend to get their start in some unrelated field, but end up as artists because they’re passionate about their craft and eventually that’s all they spend their time on. They do exactly as they please and are rewarded with devoted patrons and special awards that commend them on their unwavering ability to do whatever they want.
I think that most artists would prefer being in the latter group, but practical demands and current economical structures dictate that in order to be successful an artist must treat their talents like a medieval peasant’s virgin daughter. Waiting for the best proposal before giving up the goods. It does make sense as visual artists traditionally make far less than other skilled laborers and people are constantly trying to glean free services from them. It’s understandable to want proper compensation for your work when you invest so much in developing your skills. So what’s my gripe?
The way artists are treated in the job market has us defensive and possessive. We want to be respected as talented creators, but we also want to make rent, so most of our best work is going into marketing and advertising for companies that we may not even care about. The greatest among us are designing ads for the sides of buses and spending days making the perfect font for a mailer that will inevitably end up in a thousand garbage cans. And worst of all we resent other artists, particularly those who could directly compete with us, when we could be collaborating and expanding our creative abilities.
So what’s the alternative?
We live in a future that was not anticipated by the creators of Copyright. They never thought that it would be so easy to share information, or so difficult to control the spread of content. This is why I am grateful for things like creative commons licensing. It gives artists (and everyone else on the planet) the freedom to break from a proprietary mindset and share freely. It provides universal access to content that would otherwise get caught up in the labyrinth of Copyright laws. It grants permission universally, giving your art an infrastructure that spans the globe.
I don’t mean to suggest everyone quit their graphic design job and go live on a commune. I’m merely putting out there that we live in a world were you can have a graphic design job that pays the rent, while you contribute to modern culture in a meaningful and accessible way. For every one email I get about how someone likes something I’ve been paid to do I get ten saying how much they like something I did for fun. And it’s not because the art is any better, it’s because people share my passion for the subject matter and have the means to find it and use it. These days I get more work related to my own interests than ever before. All because I gave some milk away.