How many people would work for three years if they knew the pay would be under $15,000? That's the same as working a full-time job fifty weeks a year (unpaid vacation y'know?) for three years at $2.50 an hour. Minimum wage is low, but it's still higher than that!
And so society buys into the fallacy that artists must do this out of love. Writing a book is an act of love and insanity. I agree! Unless you love the written word, story-telling, and books in general you will never be a good author. You have to love what you do enough to set aside the time to write. You have to love the story through the rough days, the rejection letters, the bad reviews. You have to create art out of love, and not the love of money.
But that doesn't mean your art should be free.
"It's your hobby," someone once told me. "Why should I pay you to do something you love? Why should I fund your fun?"
Does that mean I don't have to pay my doctor because medicine is her passion? She loves making people better, so it's her hobby. It's something she enjoys doing. So she should work for free, yes? I'd love to use that argument on a politician! "You like being in office, Madame Senator, so we've decided not to pay you any more."
I don't believe people should be miserable when they're working. Careers shouldn't be punishments. You should be passionately engaged in whatever you do, whether it's painting the next Sistine Chapel or working as an accountant for a tiny firm in southern Nebraska. Work can and should be fun.
But the idea that work is WORK - rough, hard, back-breaking, miserable - and fun is FUN - fill in your own definition here - is so ingrained in our collective psyche that the idea of the Starving Artist makes sense. An artist is bucking the trends, going against the collective mind, rebelling against everything that makes our culture great and having fun with their work! Those cursed artists, out there expressing emotion and finding beauty in everything from dewdrops to abandoned buildings. How dare they!!!
But they must dare, mustn't they?
There is no innovation without artists. There is no growth without dreamers. THERE IS NO CULTURE WITHOUT ART.
Look at history, how are most historical eras defined? It's not by the rulers, the accountants, or the mundane people who cling to anonymity. First and foremost we define cultures by their art, by their architecture, by their inventions... the products of dreamers every one.
When we cease promoting artists and innovators society stagnates and decays.
We can not let our artists starve. We can not, in good conscience, allow the Starving Artist become part of the next generation.
If you are an artist, respect yourself and your work. If you do give it away freely, don't let it be at the expense of your health or your well-being.
If you are a consumer of the arts, do not steal art, don't pirate books, music, or other art found online. Don't deface or dismiss art. Pay when the artists asks. Encourage young or new artists. Praise and share the art of the artists you love.