I recently attended a forum where a (rather radical) proposal was made, to the effect that artists should be paid using tax money. The person who made this proposal knew that it was a provocative one. The person who made the proposal also knew that it was one that is unlikely to ever get implemented. But he still proceeded to make it, giving justifications for it.
The main justification given for the idea that tax money should be used to pay artists is in the fact that the society as a whole benefits from the works of art. Therefore the society as a whole should contribute in financing art. And the way to have the entire society contribute to financing art is by having the artists paid using tax money.
Challenged to explain how the society as a whole benefits from works of art, the person who came up with the proposal gave the example of music. He demonstrated how the songs that are composed by artists end up becoming the property of the society, and being used in all manner of social functions. He challenged us to imagine how dull life would be, and how difficult it would be to stage various social functions, without music.
In the final analysis though, we know that is likely to be very hard to convince members of the society to have their tax money used to finance art. The members of the society view art as a personal business (though, in actual fact, we all benefit – directly or indirectly – from the resultant works of art). And indeed, if they are to be honest with you, most of the artists will also tell you that the desire ‘to help the society’ is not really one of the factors that motivated them to become artists.
Due to lack of public funding, the average artist is likely to continue struggling with money issues. We will continue having highly indebted artists: like the one who recently confessed to me that he fears going past the Gap credit card login page, because he doesn’t want to see the huge credit card debt he has racked up. The artists are likely to continue being impoverished, because the society doesn’t want to pay them what it owes them…
But surely, even if we can’t agree to the idea of paying artists using tax money, we should consider giving them tax breaks. That is not too much to ask for, or is it?