Friday, June 02, 2023

art, rarity, and economics


I've been thinking this week about money and art, and mostly, how very little there is in it overall.  A small amount from shop sales (though unless its artwork alone usually these are largely eaten up by costs to make things--supplies and paper and toner and color printing jobs) Some book sales of my own full-lengths (actually a nice profit on self-published, negligible returns from trad published books royalties.), Occasional tiny payments from magazines (and these are like unicorn sightings in their rarity.) Occasional honorarium for readings.  A handful of manuscript consultations. I still make the overwhelming majority of my income from the freelance work that replaced my library income.

Overall, I've made 1000% more from selling art and paper goods than poetry, especially during the etsy years, when it was compounded by selling vintage and other crafty things. But writing and art alone--the creative work I do--has a far lesser return. And yet, it is often the thing, barring things I do for money and to pay the rent, that I spend most of my time and attention on.  I imagine this is true for all of us...unless you've carved out sweet reading gigs that pay a lot or are an artist making huge sales and commissions or have a really successful shop. Most of us will never make a living solely from the thing we love most. It gets harder as time goes on and markets become saturated and social media algorithms fuck us over.  What worked just a year or two ago can easily stop working on a dime.

Which also made me think about how I mostly feel okay about it, because the alternative is perhaps less desirable. I've always felt like a creator who is just too much. Too open about the process. Too prolific, perhaps. Too loud and show-offy. My creative work was tied very much to the business of submitting and promoting my work from its very beginnings. Before I'd published even a handful of poems, I had built a crude website to showcase them. Had started an online journal / blog to talk about my experiences and share work. I marvel at the writers who keep things close to their vests and occasionally drop a poem or a book into the world and then go back to the quiet. The rare foxes that can be seen in the forest only occasionally. Meanwhile, I feel like a peacock screaming at the top of its lungs waiting for someone to notice. People get tired of the peacock.  I get tired of being the peacock. 

But at the same time, maybe I am just too stupidly enthusiastic. I create something and I immediately want to show someone. To make that audience connection, even its just a handful of people. It's as much part of my process as the writing and art themselves are.  Usually, you will know what's going on in my head as soon as its happening. Will at least know the outline, the shape of it, even if not the particulars. I "overshare" a lot. One thing I miss about Twitter though I never really found a way to use it well, was sharing snippets from poems in progress daily. 

But eventually, it's all out there, maybe the exceptions being things I am trying to submit to journals when I am actually doing that, but otherwise I would likely just be posting every poem I write. I usually do this during NAPOWRIMO, posting my drafts daily, but it also sometimes make me feel even more downtrodden if it feels like no one is reading them. Occasionally I get my undies in a bunch and decide to send out work and some stuff crops up in journals, otherwise you will eventually see most of what I do somehow--in video poems, in the print or e-zines I create a few times a year. 

The last few years, I've created more electronic zines than print ones. Part of it is just being busy with the chapbook series in terms of assembly and its just easier to make an electronic file and share it unless I want to do something special and paper-laden (ie, the poets zodiac, for example.)  I could easily make it print only and ask people to purchase. But I feel like I already do that too much. Even those print projects eventually usually end up with some electronic version since I want to share them without people having to buy things, since no one really has the income for that. I want what I create to be available to anyone who is interested, not just those who have extraneous income to purchase it.

I often see the work I share as the museum itself, my little corner of the internet, while the saleable goods are the gift shop. With the full-lengths, most often you can find the shorter series that compose them in zines and chaps freely available, but the book is there is you want something to hold, to collect, to read in the bathtub screen-free. Or to support the overall work I do by sending a few dollars my way.  I've reformatted my Patreon recently, another platform I never know what to do with, allowing subscribers to get a copy of signed printed things when they come out, but also just providing general support. Many creators do exclusive content, and I'd considered it, but there is more joy to be found in sharing more widely than in any amount I may make by putting things behind a paywall. I've been trying to create a social content calendar that makes sense throughout the week, but really, I make something and I want to show you immediately. 

I think about rarity and value a lot..can something be less valuable because it is not rare at all? Is widely and readily available and therefore less interesting somehow? Maybe the answer varies according to what you're talking about and who you are...During the pandemic, when it seemed things were really hard for a lot of people, I thought about transforming the print operation of the chap series into e-chap one,  and completely free, though part of me still loves the physicality of paper, and I feel like other authors do as well. Someday, I'd like to figure out a hybrid solution to this, offering older chaps online. For chaps since 2014, this would be easy to format, though the first decade of books, how I laid them out, would require a complete overhaul of the design elements I don't have the time for now. But it's on my list of things to do. I would also have to arrange logistics and permissions with authors who even want their books available online, but it could be done. 

But if it's free, will people see it as less valuable and worthy of their time?  Is it an American thing, so tied up with capitalism that we can't see past it? Does rarity and exclusivity solely determine value? What room is there for art amid a system that doesn't seem to serve it at all? Is it better to see art as a gift and not a transaction at all? But then how does one eat or pay the bills or even survive as an artist at all? 

When I was moving out of the studio in the Fine Arts rather begrudgingly in 2019 (after I realized I was greatly in peril financially from stretching myself too thin as rent costs went up and up and everything else income-wise for me stayed the same) I passed daily under the sign over the door I'd passed under every day for more than a decade that said "All Passes--Art Alone Endures." To which my response, as I sadly packed up my things to move them back to my apartment and my considerably smaller dining room studio space, was how much bullshit that was in the context of most people's lives. (Granted a few months later, Covid lockdowns made me happy I had given up the space after all, but it still stung and felt like a loss and setback that previous fall.) 

1 comment:

Rajani said...

True. One can't make a living from poetry here, unless they are real life or on social media. I gave up on publishing print books and am writing my new series online. It is better to be read in the blogosphere than to wait to drop a book and then try to monetize it. Great points.