The value we put on things

Re-examining the value we put on things — and the people who create them

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief Ω

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief

I was struggling to come up with a topic for my column this week for a long time.

Last week I made comment on the library-funding situation — which is bordering on irreversible catastrophe right now. If you missed it, I suggest you go check it out on our website (Jessica Klymchuk’s coverage, I mean, though you can check out my views on it too, I guess).

But this past week, I never really found myself getting angry about anything — as I was when I saw the numbers regarding the library. I wasn’t angry, but I was a bit sullen overall and specifically about one aspect of our culture.

This past week I found myself reading a lot of articles about “getting paid in the arts.” Whether it was about taking unpaid work as a journalism intern to get “exposure,” trying to make a living as an oil painter in a world of computer desktop wallpapers and mass-produced paintings or survive as a musician buying permits to play on street corners.

It just seemed like everywhere I looked, creative folk were saying, “no one wants to pay me for what I do anymore.”

Then I found this article that, while one short piece of writing could not possibly explore the depth of analysis the problem being discussed deserves, kind of summed up my feelings on it.

And since it was written for a fellow Canadian University Press publication, I am free to share more of it than I would normally be allowed. I am about to do that. It was written by Julia Siedlanowska for The Other Press at Douglas College in New Westminister, and is entitled “Artwork is work.”


“The debate about whether arts should receive public funding is a hot one,” Siedlanowska begins.

“Although a part of me wants to believe that the arts should be able to sustain itself in a competitive market based on demand, another part knows that the government has a responsibility to ensure the health of our culture. Some art institutions providing valuable services could really use a hand in starting up. Some artists are worth developing, and sometimes that requires a grant or residency funding.

However, the root of it all doesn’t just lie in the government — it lies in us, the majority.

“We live in a complex and fast-paced world — this we know.

Music is abundant and everyone is a photographer. After all, when was the last time you paid for a song on iTunes? Music downloads are everywhere on the Internet, you can pick up the latest print from IKEA for $20, and everyone and their dog seems to make artisan soap and jewelry. In a world of excess, even the movement to simplify can quickly be disregarded, because of its abundance. There is simply too much!

“Love and passion are not always enough to make a living; and yet, we can see a distinct difference in quality between all these artistic products available to us. We only buy a product if we think it’ll add value to our lives. Perhaps a part of the problem is that we’ve forgotten what really does add value and how to patronize it accordingly. In all this abundance, we’ve forgotten that there is a person (hopefully) pouring their soul and talents into their craft.”

Siedlanowska then goes a bit into the changing arts scene in Vancouver — so I’ll just skip back to the general message she finishes with:

“I dreamt of a time when art could be a community event — free, without politics or want of personal monetary gain. Earning a living has always been a struggle for artists, and the extraordinary have made their mark (sometimes surviving, sometimes dying in squalor).

“Travelling bands of actors had to go from community to community to make their fare.

“Artists provide a quality service; however, it’s in our hands to identify which services are valuable, and to show our gratitude in coins, bills, or plastic.

“The arts should unite us in public events and connect us with our community in a way that echoes its original roots in myth and ritual. It should engender a pride in ourselves and our culture. Although this is something that the government should value, we should also prove its value in the way we live our lives daily.”

She’s making a very good point here.

We have changed what we see as valuable.

When really good musicians can’t get paying gigs, painters can’t sell their work for more than the equivalent of minimum wage (once factors like time and expenses are considered) and mass-produced abstracts are “good enough” for most people — that just makes me sad.

I bought a CD (a real honest-to-God compact disc!) a couple of weeks ago and realized how long it’s been since I’ve done that. I don’t download free music, but I do stream a lot of tunes from YouTube — which I suppose is just as bad and makes me part of the problem.

I hope I can try to change that fact, and that maybe you’ll consider your role in it, as well.