Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

August 25, 2012

David Sipress in The New Yorker

If Reuters financial writer Felix Salmon can engage in art criticism I feel qualified to comment on a major but under-reported trend contributing to our lackluster economy: NO ONE WANTS TO PAY FOR LABOR. Corporate profits are at their highest, wages are at their lowest. If we can get away with it, we want people to work for next to nothing, or for free. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe if you work, if you're making a contribution to another person’s income, you should be paid commensurately.

I’ve read endless articles about how Walmartdoesn’t pay a living wage, forcing employees to apply for food stamps, with universities following suit in their use of adjuncts. A friend in England works in an America designer outlet store that brings in over £400,000 a week (that’s $600,000 to you and me) where the ten or so employees make just over minimum wage. Et cetera, et cetera. What about the art world?

Now that it’s almost fall, my in-box is littered with “opportunities” for people with “excellent writing and editing skills” who are proficient in basic HTML, Excel, Quickbooks and PhotoShop to work as interns without compensation—for artists, bloggers, and galleries who are presumably profiting (or intending to profit) from their enterprises.

Now I’m a really interesting person with lots of life experience; a younger person could learn a lot just by being around me and participating in what I do—perhaps more than they could learn in school.  There’s a ton of work that needs to be done here that someone else could do and I, like many artists, am not exactly rolling in dough. Nevertheless, if someone’s going to put in hours toward my wellbeing, doing what I tell them to do, I feel honor-bound to pay them—especially if it’s QuickBooks, for god’s sake.

Since I doubt that my colleagues advertising for interns are in the Tea Party camp, I'm wondering how being a socially compassionate liberal fits with taking advantage of a climate that presumes people should work for free. Just wondering.