money both dirty and/or sexy


Man, you get some interesting responses anytime Art and Commerce are forced into a fistfight – with people overwhelmingly choosing Commerce as their favorite. The comments/emails from yesterday’s blog show what an uphill battle it is to get people to understand the larger picture.

In a nutshell, these are the major deceits:

1) Nobody should pay for art, it should just exist so we can enjoy it.

2) Artists are, by and large, “getting away with it.”

3) Doing art for a living isn’t a Real Job.

4) Artists should consider themselves lucky to get anything because so many other people will be happy to do it for free.

5) TV writers, movie scribes, architects, hairdressers and the people who write all the words on a website are not artists.

6) Art is demonstrably less important than money, sports, science, alcohol and most sex.

All to which, no offense, I call utter bullshit. Maybe the problem is using the term “art” when it has such pretentious implications. I wish there were a better word for it, but for now I’ll stick with this formula: Anything someone creates from their imagination for the enjoyment, edification, reaction or affirmation of their fellow man = ART.

As such, art is as important as every single fucking thing listed above, unless you want to live in a country where all the houses are square, where there are no stories, where there are no pictures or paintings, everyone’s hair is a dull brown or grey, and nobody shares any cultural experience outside of the NFL. Take the NFL off that list, and you’ve got Albania in the 1950s.

This stuff is like oxygen; you don’t realize how much you depend upon it until it’s gone. And bit by bit, that’s happening: already music is pretty much extinct from most public school systems, and when it’s budget-crunch time, who gets the money, the sculpting department who wants a kiln, or the defensive linebackers who want new crotch cups?

In essence, that’s why I say this fight between the WGA and the major studios can be construed into a much bigger picture: it’s the same damn thing being played out on a larger scale. Tregen claims that nobody in Hollywood wants a living, they only want to make it big – again, somehow, writers are “getting away with it.” Andrew compares the WGA to a bunch of florists. In doing so, you’ve both played perfectly into the hands of giant companies who want nothing more than to dismiss all of us as entitled, pathetic twits.

They don’t have to try very hard, when you’re doing their work for them. It’s so easy when the American caricature of a self-proclaimed artist is a self-obsessed, needy idler who is probably a fag. People in this country are cruel to many people – different races, the gays, fat women – but they reserve their deepest hatred for those who, by their estimation, “don’t work for a living.”

And god frickin’ forbid that they ask to be paid for their contributions. This has led to most artists simply not asking for money, believing, in a self-loathing haze, they aren’t worth it. Thank god my dad, an amazing symphony conductor, taught me early on to FUCKING GET PAID for any work you do, and not meekly consider it an honor just to be invited.

In this country, you are rewarded for having a real job. Many of you, reading this right now, are being paid to sit in that chair in the morning, when fully 50% of you would rather be doing anything else. The fact that you don’t act on that “anything else” is guaranteeing you health insurance and food for your kids, and I have unfathomable respect for that.

Someone who has chosen to be a writer can’t do your job; they’d be no good at it. If they were in Neva’s shoes, they’d prescribe the wrong medicine; if they were in Kevin from NC’s bike shop, they’d destroy every derailleur they came across. Writers at our stage of the game have worked their lives to get here, and can’t do anything else, just like you can’t.

I don’t mean to pick on anyone specifically from the comments, and I’m sorry for singling anyone out. But this is a battle we’re destined to fight for the rest of our lives. There’s no more money in journalism, nothing in novels or non-fiction, and off-Broadway is a pauper’s game. There’s hardly any money left in movies. The only place anyone can make a living writing anymore is in television, and now we’re being told that we’re worthless. As Winston Churchill said, that is something up with which we will not put.

0 thoughts on “money both dirty and/or sexy

  1. mec

    Without disagreeing with (much) of the above, here’s the larger problem for the writers and, for that matter, their employers: The internet has exploded the myth of the creative class. By open-sourcing entertainment, journalism, and criticism, it has made traditional sources of those things, if not irrelevant, a lot less central to our culture.

  2. GFWD

    How will the strike affect YOU? As a loyal reader, we all know that you and Tessa have gotten into some very important meetings with some important people, but we don’t know if any of your projects or pitch ideas are in production.
    Two questions emerge: (1) Is your project in the pipeline and, if so, will it be lost because of the strike? (2) Are you a card-carrying Writer’s Guild member? And, if not, will your project now get the greenlight while the Varsity team is on strike?
    And, I guess one more question, would it be (as I suspect) career suicide to try and get something in front of the suits during the strike?
    Okay a fourth question . . . how far ahead are shows written and produced? For example, have they already written the whole season of BONES? Or do they write one or two weeks ahead? Because if it’s already written . . . and the actors don’t go on strike . . . can’t you shoot the rest of the shows?

  3. Just Andrew

    hmm, I’m thinking maybe my point yesterday got lost somewhere along the way. I’d like to commit a bit of time to explain where I fall on this stuff, so I’ll try to type it all out along the way today and post it later.

  4. John Schultz

    I tend to agree with you Ian. However, I think the disconnect occurs when you bring the issues out to the rest of the world hoping or looking for some sympathy. To which I respond “I don’t give a shit because I’ve got my own problems”. We have to pick our battles and for me this gets “no consideration”. Outside of my own personal and work issues, I am concerned about the environment, healthcare, our miserable political system, etc. etc. So please don’t mistake my ignoring the issue as opposition. It just doesn’t rank.

  5. Jodi

    Don’t really have a problem with anyone getting paid for anything. One has to prove their worth, regardless. I guess that your family history provides a little more insight for you about getting paid for art, obviously.
    There are two things this raises for me, or makes me define for myself:
    1) Some things are entertainment, some things are art, some are craft. Most Seinfeld episodes to me are entertainment/craft. They show talent, and intelligence, but I do apply heavier context to the word ‘Art’. I assume the people who contributed got paid. I would be surprised if they didn’t.
    2) Some of the aspects of this are unique to your occupation. I don’t really understand ‘royalties’ or ‘residuals’. They are unique. Most other occupations carry liabilities into the future, not royalties. I think that’s where the feeling that “Art is not as important as oxygen” comes from. I would love to get royalties for each engineering solution that I provide and sometimes I do, but the liability associated with it is probably not worth it. In my particular endeavor the goal is to produce something of value, get paid appropriately and then never hear about it again.
    Occasionally art is the accused culprit in a way that is similar to other occupations, such as Helter Skelter’s effect on the Manson family. But ultimately it’s impact is not usually punished and to the casual observer, I’d say that the members of the Beatles have profitted handsomely from the song; an arrangement I find foreign to my experience.
    The NFL makes a lot of money, I’m not really sure why – but on the flip side so has Jeff Koons. It would be interesting to take your entry today and apply most of the references to Koons, contrasted with other occupations.
    “All to which, no offense, I’d call utter bullshit” – Ian Williams
    (As you know, I did always want to sculpt Michael Jackson and Bubbles and leverage it into marrying a hot Italian porn star- no, really)

  6. craighill

    you don’t “ask” for money, you earn it. that’s how to “fucking get paid”.
    the market will tell you how much you’re worth. it’s very efficient.
    god bless capitalism.

  7. Piglet

    To the extent I’ve fallen into your little traps, it is because:
    1. I’m bitter and jealous of artists because I wanted to be an actor before I learned I had to make a living and ended up being a lawyer.
    2. The appearance that most artistic copyrights are really owned by evil brobdignagian corporations that have already screwed real artists out of the right to their work. Therefore, bootleg copies of albums, for example, don’t really shock my conscience;
    3. If most of the crap in TV and movies is “art”, then my butt’s a finely tuned, concert-quality wind instrument. Seems to me, as long as the public is more willing to pay for sin than for virtue, the market will support ten tons of crap for every ounce of the good stuff. For this reason, I sometimes wonder if the best market for artists is the vaguely feudal model from the Italian Renaissance, where cultured aristocrats commissioned the good stuff, and the best artists got paid well as long as Don Tuttifrutti didn’t renege on the deal and have them stabbed and jailed instead…on second thought, maybe that wasn’t the best of times after all.

  8. kjf

    here here ian. my daughter is a member of the WGA and 2007 was the first year she could actually quit her “day jobs” and write for a living. her goal was not to “make it big” but to be lucky enough to get paid to do what she does best – being creative. she voted for the strike because writing is not only her “art” but its her job and just like anyone else with a job she wants to be paid fairly for her work. and anyone who thinks that writing is not a real job doesn’t know a writer.
    gfwd – they can shoot the shows they already have scripts for and the networks do not have enough shows to finish out the season.

  9. Grumphreys

    When doing gigs in Canada a few years ago, I became friends with some canadian musicians. I was amazed to find out that they are in part subsidized by the government in exchange for being professional musicians and performers.
    Now, I’m not getting into another govt vs. private sector debate or arguing whether its right or wrong, I’m just pointing out that there is a difference in the way that some other developed countries treat their artists or support art in general.
    Once upon a time you could make a living here on the margins as a musician without having a big commercial hit. Its still doable, but it has gotten much harder.
    The good news is that music itself is not dying – more people are making music than ever before, in every genre. And its all available now, along the lines of what mec said.

  10. ChrisM

    I see the huge category of “commercial arts” as a continuum that runs from the more purely commercial (‘Full House’) to the more to the purely artistic (‘Tell Me That You Love Me’). We can argue about where any piece of work falls on that continuum, but I think some of the hostility that you identify comes from a tendancy among commercial artists to argue that their work is simply “art” and to pretend, when convenient, that they lack the perfectly natural desire to get paid.

  11. Ramone

    Where do you get your take on life?
    Selling “art” requires real salesmanship – salesmanship is quintessential business.
    what is not a real job is working in academia. it’s conceptual/abstract la-la land in perpetuity.
    your cussing really shows your lack of class. it’s not macho, it’s not “cool” – it’s gutter trash. real, refined people don’t cuss. nor do they show their “money” hand – their identity is not tied to wealth or lack thereof.

  12. Neva

    I don’t see what all the fuss is about. What you do is valuable to people just like the automakers, truck drivers, doctors or whatever. It’s harder for people to put a direct monetary amount on that value but it’s still very, very real. Part of the purpose of striking is to prove your value and show the folks in positions of power how much you are missed.
    There is nothing wrong with being paid for producing something valuable or for wanting to have appropriate say in how your work is used/interpreted/whatever. Sometimes people have to stand up for themselves or get walked all over.
    I think some people’s ire over “artists” is based on their jealousy about the overpaid few that are most visible to them (the celebrities that make millions per movie for example). We have to remember that it is unfair to judge the millions of hard working and unseen folks based on the reimbursement of that tiny majority of people. I feel the same thing with people thinking doctors “make too much money” because they are looking at the plastic surgeons etc. and judging us all.

  13. JB

    I don’t know, Ian. Sounds like you’re getting more flack than love from the hoi polloi on this one. Kind’ve pissing me off.

  14. Neva

    Forgot to mention that I disagree with you highly. Working in Academia (I assume you mean college profs and the like) is quite challenging. I spent some time in that arena and discovered that getting tenure, publishing, teaching are all a constant challenge. Without creative, thoughtful professors where would we all be right now? I guess we’d be with Ramone?
    I don’t exactly disagree with your points on the language but you lost my respect with the academia comment so I can’t get on your side on that one either.

  15. connor beach

    Ian writes: ‘Writers at our stage of the game have worked their lives to get here, and can’t do anything else, just like you can’t.’
    I think you mean *won’t* do anything else, not can’t. I may not be at *your* stage of the game, but I have always made my living as a writer, and supplemented w/ cool gigs I enjoyed that fed my soul (and my writing) in other ways—including landscaper, clerk at a printshop, freelancer, teacher, and being an editor for a Christian ministry. Ian, your so-called 50% who are wishing they were doing Anything Else SHOULD go find something else that pays and that they enjoy…Hey, but let’s be real. I have a feeling that you are projecting your own angst onto 50% of us—I bet that most folks are savvy enough to find a somewhat stimulating gig, and mature enough to realize that real life does involve trade-offs.
    And b/c I happened to hit the Lucky Lotto triple sevens on my wedding day, I have had the *luxury* to pursue my other artistic interest—painting. I’ve already gotten four commissions and I must say selling these paintings has been more inspiring to me as an artist than either of the writing grants I got handed to me from government programs.

  16. tregen

    Holly cow, my second mention in XTCIAN.
    Let me try to expand on my short comment yesterday:
    I said that no one I know (as in personally know) wants to simply make a living at their “art” but rather they are all interested in making it big. I am sure there are many people in “the business” who are happy making a living and getting by.
    I am a huge fan of art and firmly believe that removing art from public schools and the public in general is a terrible idea and the damage already done must be reversed. In addition, I believe that artist should absolutely get paid what their “art” will bring in the market. However, I also believe that the writer for, say “Dexter”, should get paid infinetly more than the writer for,oh, I don’t know, say “The Real OC” and likewise, a great painting by Lou Posner may require a bit more green that one picked up in Venice Beach on Sunday. The reason the studios and TV producers can put the financial squeeze on so many people who operate in the business, including writers, is simply a matter of supply and demand. There is way more supply of folks trying to get in than there is demand and the result is obvious.
    You have, on numerous occassions, bemoaned mediocrity in our society, and yet here you defending the status quo, which, when it comes to TV programing, is generally pathetic (with a few exceptions). Write your show, create your script and make it so good, so perfect, and so entertaining that you will get paid a living wage, and hopefully far more, but please don’t pretend that what the nation is subjected to for hours a day on TV is art.
    I believe your definition of Art is a bit overbroad. I cook up some great dishes sometime from my imagination, but it’s food, not art and while some folks may like to consider what they do in a kitchen as such, ultimately, with the exception of a few sushi chefs, I disagree.
    I agree with other commentors that a very large part of what is put on the TV today is absolute garbage. This cookie cutter crap may meet the definition of art as you define it but, in my opinion, it does not pass the definition as justice Stewart would have worded it (“I know it when I see it…”).
    While I am an advocate of no TV I am a huge abuser of the internet and have found that I have seen some great short films, dramas, music, etc. all put out in the great big WWW that are making the creators of this art money without the need for TV/big screen to affirm their success.
    I believe that Art is an ever changing medium that is as much a part of being a human as consciousness, emotion and speech. From the play-doh creations of three-year-olds, to the street vendors in the third world, to the master painters, we (humans)create. We create bedtime stories for our children, songs in the shower, and dreadful poetry for our lovers, but we all create. Getting paid for it is an absolute bonus and I wish anyone and everyone who can make a living, and hopefully get filthy rich, the best but just because an artist is an artist doesn’t mean he should get paid anymore than the fact that I am an attorney means I should get paid just for being an attorney. The truth is I must produce positive results or I’ll be broke, just like everyone else, artist included.
    Sorry, long rant and I’m not sure it makes any sense whatsoever. Nevertheless, I hope you guys the best and if you need a good entertainment attorney I just moved downtown…..

  17. janet

    i paint my pictures because i love to paint my pictures even if i don’t immediatly(or ever) like my pictures ,i really enjoy asking why.

  18. connor beach

    OK, duh, I think I figured out what you meant, Ian. For the record, I’ve only posted under one other name and that’s Yo! Thief! b/c I thought the voice demanded pseudepigraphy…All the others (Ramone, Cindy–funny, you must admit!, Algore, Nancy etc.) are my 49 yo, business-owning husband. Your blog definitely sparks discussion around the house, as you can imagine. I will tell him to stop commenting if you would like.

  19. LFMD

    I think that your feelings about your work being devalued by society are universal. It seems to be the American way for companies/studios/business owners to make us all feel expendible. No matter how good you are at what you do, there is always someone out there who can take your place. The studios are making the writers feel that way, and the Insurance Job makes my fellow Cubicle Dwellers feel that way. I have a desk job with insurance and a regular paycheck, but I have been fired before, and statistics indicate that I will stumble through some other places of employment before I throw in the towel and retire.
    Anyway, I am wishing you the best. And, congratulations to Lyle, Expat Mama! I have been wondering where you have been . . . now I know.

  20. dpdir the risk of sounding utterly it goes.
    art ( and the lower case is conscious) and its effect on society at large is much harder to measure then say health care or garbage collection. if you don’t get medical care, you die. if the garbage isn’t collected, its stinks.people bitch and make a stink. its corrected.
    art deals in souls…and unfortunatley when souls start to stink, no one notices as clearly as the uncollected garbage.
    i think that our current disconnect from art in the everyday has definitely contributed to the stench of complacency, greed, and arrogance we all collectively share as a country.
    art is the window through which we contemplate who we are, where whe have come from, and how we perceive ourselves. art demands that we stop and see. and the possibilities in those moments can change are lives in ways we may not be aware of for many many years.
    surely we should value those who chose art as a path at least as much as those who collect our garbage. in every work of art we have the hope of a truly secular spiritual enlightenment. each act of art has the potential to move us out of our expected path, to send the course of events spinning in another direction.
    has there ever been a single moment in time when art and the artist could help to revive a sense of hope in the world ?
    that must be valued. or else we have really lost any chance to reconnect to our basic humanity.

  21. Steph Mineart

    Please, please lets pay TV writers. Please.
    1) Scripted television is better now than it has ever been, ever. There are amazing shows on TV – better than most movies, better even than some books. It’s worth paying for.
    2) If I have to watch another “reality” show with an artificially constructed “microcosm of humanity” pitting one against another with the goal of producing nothing but screaming, hair pulling and other vile displays of behavior I will, I promise you, puke.


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