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Arts jobs are real jobs

February 11, 2009 |  2:30 pm

One puzzlement in the debate over the congressional stimulus bill has been the inability — or the perverse refusal — of many to include jobs in the culture industry as a legitimate concern. Politicians of various stripes, from California Democrat Dianne Feinstein to Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, seem blind to the simple reality.

Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress recently put it like this:

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) was typical of the opponents to the stimulus legislation who seized on the arts to discredit the overall package; he told the House chamber, “It included wasteful government spending that has nothing to do with creating jobs. As I asked on this floor last week, what does $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts have to do with creating jobs in Indiana?” Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) was even more emphatic, saying, “We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous.”

Lilly cited a government study that showed at least 3 million arts industry workers are in support jobs —electricians, carpenters, seamstresses, janitors, accountants, publicists, etc. — and they'll be just as out-of-work as a Wall Street trader or a Wal-Mart clerk if an arts center cuts back or closes. So what gives? Why are so many blind to the simple reality that arts workers are real workers?

Elvis2_2 I chalk it up to our celebrity culture.

Funding for theater? Tim Robbins doesn't need money! Funding for art museums? Jeff Koons is rich! Funding for concert halls? Yo-Yo Ma is a superstar!

The glare of the celebrity spotlight obscures our view of the ticket-taker at Robbins' play trying to make ends meet, the preparator at Koons' museum exhibition struggling to put a kid through college or the education program coordinator at the concert hall where Yo-Yo Ma performs who has a pile of medical bills. Their jobs are at risk.

But they are anonymous, faceless. And of course, most artists are themselves obscure. Celebrity culture teaches us to equate the arts with fame, fame with success, success with money. Even in a national financial crisis, why would that need stimulus?

The distortion is severe. Whether Feinstein, Coburn, Pence, Kingston and the rest are just dumb, or whether they do get it and are cynically using the knowledge for their own political purposes is immaterial. People will still suffer, with no help from them.

— Christopher Knight

Credit: Andy Warhol, "Elvis," 1970; print. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Comments () | Archives (28)

I am amazed at the hatin' directed at the arts receiving money. People tend to not get too worked up over spending billions bailing out the auto industry for ridiculous decisions, dropped on a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and just general support of corrupt policy in banking and trade. I think we all need to hug it out. By the way, along with the Kennedy Museum shutting down so will your local Police Museum, Civil War Museum and Natural History Museum (if you believe in that sort of thing). Hurray for capitalism! Its so entertaining!

Perhaps if Mr. Frazell had more respect for the arts, he'd be able to write more coherently. Writing is an art, after all.


I fail to see why anyone would differentiate between the work of individual (presumably visual) artists and the jobs that the arts as a field creates - including those that are part-time, contract, temporary, the work of "skilled craftsmen", etc.

A job is a job is a job, and the arts creates jobs. Period.

I won't even get into the great value that the arts adds to life in general.

No, work creates jobs in art. Thats what I do, deal with graphic designers, like my wife, and put together for actually printng, in every form imaginable. Does that creat jobs? No, it makes money as it is advertising. It just gets people to spend money, that is far different than creating wealth. Very different. However, it is still necessary, we need entertainmen, and Art, two VERY different things that artistes mixed up, cant tell the difference between, long ago. As entertianmnet is far easier and less meaningful towards afull life than Creative Art which is about Mankind, Nature and God, but both have thier place.

No, I have great respect for Art, but litttle to none for the fake carreerists of anemic academia, who spend all their time figuring out how to make a living , avoiding the toils of real work, instead of creating better and more meaningful works. We have more artistes and spent more money on it than in all of recorded history combined. And have far less to show for it. Applied arts are doing well, Fine arts are just crap for the rich, meaningless to most of us, overwrought and over finished silliness to make them feel better about themselves. Creative Art is rare, always has been, but used as a cover for the lazy to make toys and an irresposnsilbe lifestlye. Creative Art has been hibernating for decades, but it is time to make its reappaearance, it is needed now, but must get rid of the crap so it can come forth, the Age of Meism, and Academic Artistes, is over.

art collegia delenda est

To Mr. Frazell and all,

The 5 million jobs estimated by Americans for the Arts "Arts & Economic Prosperity III" report are in NON PROFIT ARTS, not "for profit" Entertainment industry. There is a HUGE difference. The non-profit arts industry accounts for $166 BILLION dollars each year, as well. This is a FACT.

Perhaps Mr. Frazell should take his own advice and go home and read. Also, an arguement is only as good as the sources you cite, so, for your education, here are a few sources.


Additionally, I find it interesting that Mr. Frazell IS an artist.

Non profit is a tax term, has nothing to do with being generous or selfless. Many heads of these organizations make far more money than the President of the US. And most of them are NOT artists, but entertainers for the rich masquerading as artists, artistes. Much of the money is from concert halls being rented out for other events, notfor orchestras, but some silly John Tesch type crap, is THAT art? You can define it anyway you want, and many are part time employees, or on contracts from real businesses. Most is still entertainment, not art at all. And its not charities, stop using non profit as a term for charity, its still business, collectiong funds, from private grants, governmetnt tax breaks, which a non profit designatio is as they dont pay ANY taxes. And direct funding from NEA, much of that is included in that 166 number,

No, very few artists, ever. Just lotsa wannabes. Most opera and local theatres are entertainments, amusements, not art. Same with the only American Art form, jazz. Much is entertainment, only some truly creative art. No, most of this local stuff is for tiny segments of society, not for all. True art can be appreciated by anyone in any place on earth. This stuff is for particular groups, to make them feel better about themselves. What is that? Entertainment.

Art in any form does NOT Create Wealth. It uses it, and thats fine. It is a necessary part of humanity, entertainment too. But it does NOT create wealth. It lives off of outside income not generated by ticket or advertising sales, and does NOt pay taxes. That is not exactly helpful to gettijng a broken economic system going again. Art will have its day, just not as part of an economic stimulus plan, waste of money. It could be a part of a jobs bill, but that is NOT what this bill was supposed to be. READ.

No artiste should be listened too regarding such a bill, you should recuse yourself, because it is completely and totaly in your own private interest for it to pass. Not for the nations. You are a lousy judge of that. And your self created reports to sell you self worth. It aint all that.

art collegia delenda est
The nadir of self delusion and Meist doctrine

I am a working singer/songwriter without a second job and this thread saddens me. It's as if some consider artists to be something other than human beings. In addition to being an artist I am a single parent and I supplement my Mother's SSI. I have made my living exclusively in music since 1984 but I am no different than any other working adult in that I need food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education for my child etc. just like

Life is short too short for us to tell the young aspiring artist to go and get a "real job". Why should anyone work a job they aren't happy with if they are blessed with artistic abilities and callings that can be used to earn a living.

In my humble opinion if we instilled respect for the arts in our children there might be a little more peace in the world. Maybe if our children's emotions were stimulated by beautiful lyrics or a beautiful painting instead of by watching a wrestling match there would be less violence in schools. Every time I write a song I'm thinking about the people who will hear it and what it will make them feel. Art inspires. Art evokes feelings; compassion, excitement, happiness, love, sadness, pride. Art is essential to civilization, we are more than bodies we are Spirit and my spirit needs art to help me grow.

Reading this discussion has been fascinating because it is rare that people with such different idea's have such a long discussion. Halfway I thought, let it go! There is no point in trying to convince each other, you are too different!
But I got sucked in. And also have something to say in defense of art. First of all, everyone that is part of this discussion should read last Sunday's NYT article: The Boom is over: Long Live the Art.
In short: less art market: better art

What I want to point out in the discussion between mr Farzell and all the rest, is not the (in)correctness of economic facts or the interpretation of them. What lies at the hart of this discussion is an opinion about meaning, and in this case what choice of work=life is more meaningful than another. What kind of person would actually go so far as to say, to all the millions of people that choose to work in the arts for whatever reason (love, money), that their industry, their work, their life is meaningless?!?! Especially when that same person says:
"As entertainment is far easier and less meaningful towards a full life than Creative Art which is about Mankind, Nature and God, but both have their place"
So art is meaningful towards a full life and that is about God, Nature and Mankind? How are we going to have a healthy society without meaningful idea's and expressions about God, Nature and Mankind (sounds like art to me)? As we all know by now economics are useless without a morale and meaning, the meaninglessness of a life purely based on capital and consumerism and ENTERTAINMENT got us here in the first place!

It would be my statement that not having invested and fostered art in the right way but mainly through market principles is one of the reasons we are in this mess. One of the reasons for that might be what mr Farzell seems to be afraid of: the academic. I am sorry but, the display of so much anger towards art I can only interpret as fear. Fear for the academic, fear for science? Fear of intellectualism? This fear has been spreading for while. Probably because intellectualism does not always rhyme easily with two leading principles in this society: the free market and religion.

I hope that, next to the big 'POP' of this economy, the comfort bubble disillusion which is the American Dream (=not the American Reality and never will be) will 'POP' just as hard so that we can move into times where our relationship to the earth and each other can become considerate enough to start calling ourselves and each other citizens again. Maybe in those bright times mr Farzell will be able to be more accepting of people that choose to dedicate their full life to pursue the meaning that is captured in art.

I'm sorry Mr. Frazell but I must disagree with your point that entertainment isn't art. Frankly, that's an obscure condemnation of practice of making art, which these people do every day, albiet within an industrial setting.

I am, by trade, an animator. I've worked in this industry for many years, and accomplishment in this field requires that I learn an adapt skill sets from people who, by your definition of contemporary art, are artitsts. Everyday, I have clients both nationally and abroad who pay for the edge that artistry offers their productions. I also have stockholders who invest regularly in my company, deriving CAPITAL from my success as an ARTIST.

So what do I do? I paint, I draw, I animate. I am an artist and I was trained by artists, and I provide art to an audience of no-less than 50 million people. I work with artists everyday, employed in companies all over the country. just because its film and music, doesn't make it any less an art form.

Now I'd like to think that this arguement is about semantics, about a definition of old-school and new-school art. And I'd also like to think that your arguement is that STUDIO ARTISTS aren't real earners. But this comes back to mechantilism. Studio artists make a living by the buying and selling of goods, the same way that we (as industry artists) make a living by the buying and selling of goods. The real distinction then, is their market.

Industry artists sell to corporations, whose backbone is lead by what you call ENTERTAINMENT. This material is marginalized by said corporate interests, re-worked, and reproduced to fit what their focus groups are telling them. Its then packaged and deployed to retailers, whose selling of that merchandise, secures investor support.

Studio artists are a different breed. skipping the corporate controlling interests, they market to smaller studios, who act as mediators between artists and consumers: who themselves traders and mediators within a global art network. But they are private businessmen, whose capital is defined by the singular pieces within their collection.

Anyway you look at it, the artists are the same. Creating personalized products and selling them at comparable rates to two very different kinds of markets. One is corporate, the other is private. So your entire arguement hinges, REALLY, on one idea.

Private businessmen don't require the protection of the government spending, and we can throw them under the wagon, so that our corporate markets thrive. And frankly, I find that indignant.

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