As I continue my research into sustainability of creative careers, one thing keeps coming up: the subtle balance between supply and demand and the effect that has on opportunities for artists to be paid for their creative work.
Historically, artists have done very well when Guilds and Unions have been allowed to control the flow of entrants to the profession. However, what has been fascinating in my reading of the literature of cultural economics is learning about times historically when this equilibrium has shifted and the impact this has had.
Here’s a fascinating quote by Robin Lenman, from Painters, Patronage and Art Markets in Germany 1850-1914, in Past and Present, volume 123, quoted in Menger, 2006:
“… the problem of surplus artists was part of a much broader, international cultural phenomenon. Between the 1860s and 1914, for example, steeply rising enrolment in German higher education led to periodic panics about overcrowding and unemployment. In several European countries, literary proletariats were spawned by the mid-century publishing boom. Music and theatre were overflowing with excess labour; in Britain in 1891 there were nearly twice as many musicians as bank clerks, and extreme variations in status and pay. Though the market free-for-all enhanced the importance of dealers, agents, professional organisations and other stabilising elements, it also created a reserve army of starving music-teachers, hack authors and painters forced into all kinds of low-grade and shady occupations.”
Menger, P. M. “Artistic Labor Markets. Contingent Works, Excess Supply and Occupational Risk Management. I: Ginsburgh, VA og CD Throsby.(red.) Handbook of the economics of art and culture.” (2006).
Don’t we hear cries like this today? I know in my sphere there is talk of too many drama schools producing too many actors. Interesting to know that 100 years ago there were similar concerns. One thing is clear, like moths to a flame, people will always be attracted to the arts and while the idea of regulation is tempting, it seldom works. Your only choice is to get smarter about how you work. You could start by digging through the hundreds of blog posts in my archives with tips and suggestions of how to turn your art into a business.