I read it so you don’t have to is a series that gives you the TL; DR on a business book that you want to read – but don’t have the time to do so.
What did I read?
The death of the artist: how creators struggle to survive in the era of billionaires and big tech by William Deresiewicz.
So who is this William Deresiewicz?
Deresiewicz is an essayist and critic and former English teacher at Yale. He is also the author of Excellent sheep: the poor education of the American elite and the path to a meaningful life and A Jane Austen education.
Give me the 30 second sale.
Work artists are in trouble. Now that’s not what you’ll hear from Silicon Valley and its evangelists in the media, who say there has never been a better time for artists, claiming there are more ways than never distribute your work and have eyes on your art. .
But in The death of the artist, Deresiewicz actually asks working artists about what is happening in their fields. For the book, he interviewed hundreds of artists working in various fields – music, writing, visual arts, film and television. What he found was an arts economy that mirrors the national economy as a whole: a “middle class” hanging on tight, on the brink of poverty and burnout while facing to difficult choices of compromising his principles to earn a living. .
Part of the reason is that the cultural industries that nurtured and supported young artists (publishers, record labels, galleries and mid-sized film studios, to name a few) have been crushed by Internet and business models of technology companies. Former university havens, where artists could find time to both teach and work on their craft, have been turned into salt mines operated by a weary army of auxiliaries.
All of this means that artists have less time to focus on creating their art. Instead, Deresiewicz argues that most of today’s artists are, in fact, small business owners, responsible for their own marketing, fundraising, sales, and accounting as they struggle to stay solvent. He sums it up this way: “The good news is, you can do it yourself. The bad news is, you have to.
As it becomes increasingly difficult to make a living as an active artist (and not just as an amateur – a distinction Deresiewicz is firm on), there will simply be fewer artists doing less of this. that we love to consume. Artists are also humans. No matter how much they enjoy making music, writing books, directing movies, or painting, there comes a time when the stress of staying alive while doing so becomes too much to bear.
One of the most poignant examples of Deresiewicz comes from the music industry, where piracy and abysmal streaming revenues have forced artists to tour constantly, leaving them with no time to make new music. When we don’t pay artists fairly for their work, we’re not just making it difficult for them to make a living; we destroy their ability to do more of what we love.
What am I going to learn, in a nutshell?
You’re going to learn a lot on what it really means to be an artist right now. Fewer and fewer artists are “successful” to some extent, and the middle class of artists is shrinking as more and more of them slide into poverty. The interviews with the artists, who make up about a third of the book, are fascinating and often deeply moving.
My 30 seconds of selling the book might make you shrug your shoulders and think, “Well, ‘the starving artist’ is a stereotype for a reason. Everyone knows that art doesn’t pay. But if you read the entire book you’ll better understand where this stereotype came from, why it’s not a very healthy way to approach creative work, and what the real consequences of keeping artists on the brink of starvation really are. .
You will also get a fascinating education in the history of “art” with a capital “A”. Our conception of artists as people living on the fringes of society and using their work as cultural criticism or the search for truth is a relatively recent invention. Deresiewicz describes the three general paradigms that the arts have passed through in recent centuries – artists were once artisans, then bohemians, then professionals. He argues that we are entering a new stage, a “fourth paradigm”, in the evolution of art, characterized by “the artist as producer”.
In this new paradigm, artists are “free particles in the markets, finding what work we can for what money we can and exposed unprotected to the vagaries of the market”.
Particularly juicy pieces?
Deresiewicz isn’t knocking when it comes to Silicon Valley apologists acting like all of this is inevitable – and internet amateurs are better than professional artists anyway.
He devotes an entire chapter at the beginning of the book to explaining the myths that the tech world peddles about how they “support” artists with paltry payments from massively profitable platforms.
But Deresiewicz isn’t a star-eyed idealist, either. He repeatedly argues that artists don’t deserve to be paid fair to create something. He must, in some way, be valuable to someone. The point is, we all consume large amounts of art – music, writing, television and film, and even visual arts like photography. It’s a pretty good clue that the work of artists is valuable. The question of who benefits from this value and why provides the meat to some of Deresiewicz’s sharpest critics.
If I ran into you at a cocktail party, what parts of the book would you impress me with?
One of Deresiewicz’s shrewdest observations is that the content was only demonetized at the point of sale – for platforms, it’s a money-making machine. Take streaming music, for example. Deresiewicz rightly points out that streaming services like Spotify are essentially a protection racket. They pay tenths of a cent per stream, but say to artists and labels, “Hey, if you don’t like it, you can always just go back and let people steal it and do nothing.”
Spotify is making billions, but that’s only possible with a massive, underpaid workforce whose only other option is to get ripped off entirely, rather than most.
If I were the type of person to be invited to cocktails, and we were talking about economics of the arts, I would certainly steer the conversation in that direction. We’ve all been told that content has been devalued and that artists now need to be “consistent” and produce more and more content to make up for the fact. But who pushes this story? The people who enjoy endless content aren’t artists or even consumers (who are bathed in a sea of mediocre content). These are the platforms that feed off this constant flow of content to the tune of billions in revenue or new investment cycles.
Should I take the plunge and read it all?
Since you’re reading this on Medium, you probably already have a sense of how the creative class is making money these days. If you’re interested in the dynamics between platforms, artists, and the work they produce, this book is a must read.
Following : I’m going to read Stéphanie Kelton’s one The deficit myth: modern monetary theory and the birth of the popular economy, a book on a new macroeconomic theory that challenges conventional ideas about national currencies, taxes, deficits, etc.