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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Response to Should We Stop Making Art

Isaac Butler at Parabasis poses the supply and demand question, by way of the Collective Artists Think Tank.

Isaac's thoughts:

"For me, well, first let me say that it's definitely not a great recommendation for every market. New York is over-saturated in a way that few other places are. But still, there's something to this. I take this to be more of an invitation to figure out a business model that works for raising money for your shows (and scaling your work appropriately) rather than anything else. Of course at the same time if we waited around until we had created the ideal circumstances to do our shows we'd... never do our shows."

My thoughts:

He frames it as "Should We Stop Making Art?" which I think isn't exactly the question posed. CATT seems to be saying to production companies: "Don't just do a lot of work if you can't afford it."

All of this is of a piece from the statement on the CATT that "Art is a profession; and artists who do not get paid are not professionals. Period." The CATT is trying to say, as far as I can tell, "The reason artists don't make any money is because they do not expect to, and if you undervalue yourself, and you run your business in an unsustainable way, it will not pay you and it will not sustain you."

It's not an attempt to call artists who have yet to be paid un-professional. They seem to be saying that if you want to be a professional, it behooves you to get yourself paid. It does not, it appears to me, seem to be a way to purposefully attack people who do unpaid work. It seems that what they're saying is: "You deserve to be paid." Not "If you can't get paid, you're just a hobbyist." I can see what the goal is here, and I understand it, even if I think it's sort of needlessly insulting (even if it's not intentionally so) to people who are struggling to find work in a difficult environment.

All that being said, I still find this all rather hopeless and it's my instinct to try to keep it in the background. Meaning: I don't think that market-based thinking is invalid; but I do think that if we suggest that it should drive how we produce creative work, we're losing our way.

Our goal should be to invite and encourage and foster as much creativity as possible, to celebrate and embrace it, and to try to find a way to (as I've said before) to reduce the market influences on artists. We shouldn't force our community to comply with principles of economics that, inherently, raise efficiency above beauty on the list of things to focus on.

Instead of labeling artists by their pay grade and trying to find ways to curtail the exposure of new playwrights (because if there's one thing I know about new plays is that they're overexposed), we should commit our energies to bringing new audiences to our invigorated and active stages. Maybe a population that loves theater would be less likely to defund the NEA; more likely to see the value in the arts. (Let's face it: it's rare to hear theaters trumpeting the amazing amount of new work and the multitude of voices out there. We're not exactly great evangelists for our own work. We sound, more often than not, like apologists.)

I fear we've begun to concede that the market is the arbiter of taste and that the market is the best gauge of success and failure. If you decided in your life to go work on the stage, some part of you has already rejected that idea. If the market had its way, anything that couldn't be streamed via satellite into people's homes would be thrown into a scrap heap; all chickens would be grown in test tubes; all prisons would be privatized. It's up to us to push back against the market; not to become more like it.

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