Transcript: Can Art Survive the Internet? | Nov 30, 2020

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a gray suit, white shirt, and spotted gray tie.

A caption on screen reads "Are you sure you want to be an artist? @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says IF EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST, IS ANYONE REALLY AN ARTIST? AND IF ARTISTS ARE INDEED A DIME A DOZEN, HOW COULD ANY OF THEM MAKE A LIVING IN SUCH A CROWDED MARKETPLACE? THROW IN THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION AND SUCH QUESTIONS - OFTEN VIEWED AS UNSEEMLY BY TRUE ARTISTS - BECOME INEVITABLE. ESSAYIST AND CRITIC WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ FACES THEM SQUARELY IN HIS NEW BOOK: "THE DEATH OF THE ARTIST: HOW CREATORS ARE STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE IN THE AGE OF BILLIONAIRES AND BIG TECH." AND HE JOINS US NOW FROM PORTLAND, OREGON.

William is in his fifties, with short, receding gray hair and a stubble. He's wearing glasses and a gray shirt.
A picture of his book appears briefly on screen. The cover is white, with a picture of a piece of art in white and bright red.

Steve continues WE'RE DELIGHTED TO HAVE YOU ON TVO TONIGHT, BILL. HOW ARE YOU DOING?

William says I'M HAPPY TO BE JOINING YOU. THANK YOU.

Steve says EXCELLENT. WE SHOULD STATE OFF THE TOP THAT YOU WROTE THIS BOOK BEFORE THE PANDEMIC HIT AND THERE'S NO DOUBT THAT COVID-19 HAS HAD A SIGNIFICANT MASSIVE IMPACT ON THE ARTS, ON ARTISTS AND SO ON AND THEIR LIVELIHOODS. BUT BE THAT AS IT MAY, LET'S START WITH THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK. YOU TALK ABOUT THE DEATH OF THE ARTIST AND IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THERE ARE MORE ARTISTS AROUND NOW THAN EVER. SO WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE DEATH OF THE ARTIST?

The caption changes to "William Deresiewicz. Author, 'The death of the artist.'"
Then, it changes again to "Not everyone is blessed with creativity."

William says THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION. I MEAN, ONE WAY TO ANSWER THAT IS IT'S THE DEATH OF A CERTAIN KIND OF VISION FOR WHAT AN ARTIST'S LIFE CAN BE, BECAUSE, YES, THERE ARE MORE ARTISTS AROUND THAN EVER, AND THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS THAT IT'S HARDER AND HARDER FOR ANY ARTIST TO MAKE A DECENT LIVING. BASICALLY, BEFORE THE INTERNET CAME ALONG, IT WAS CERTAINLY HARD TO MAKE A LIVING AS AN ARTIST. THAT'S BEEN TRUE FOR A LONG TIME. BUT, IF YOU MANAGED TO BE ONE OF THE RELATIVE FEW WHO ESTABLISHED A REAL PROFESSIONAL CAREER, WHO STUCK WITH IT, WHO DID IT SERIOUSLY, WHO ACHIEVED SOME LEVEL OF RECOGNITION, NOT SUPERSTAR STATUS, BUT RECOGNITION FROM PEERS AND CRITICS, YOU FOUND AN AUDIENCE, YOU PRODUCED CONSISTENTLY, THAT WAS A MIDDLE CLASS JOB DESCRIPTION, BASICALLY. YOU KNOW? YOU COULD AFFORD A DECENT PLACE TO LIVE, DECENT HEALTH CARE, MAYBE SEND YOUR KIDS TO COLLEGE. THE WAY THE INTERNET AND OTHER FACTOR, GROWING INEQUALITY, ESPECIALLY, HAS RESHAPED THE ECONOMICS OF THE ARTS, THAT IS LARGELY BECOME A WORKING CLASS JOB DESCRIPTION, AND AT LEAST IN THE UNITED STATES, WORKING CLASS TODAY MEANS POOR. THAT'S WHAT ARTISTS ARE FACING.

Steve says RIGHT. LET'S SET UP THIS NEXT QUESTION THEN WITH AN EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK, AND HERE IT GOES. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING, YOU WRITE...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Dreams without guarantees." The quote reads "The most important thing to understand about artistic success, however, is that it arrives with an expiration date. You have fans -now. Your work is selling -right now.
The critics adore you -for now. Artistic work is project-to-project. Your album or your play can make a splash, but then it's back to square one. The artist's life is feast-or-famine. You can find success again, and past successes help generate future ones, but there are no guarantees."
Quoted from William Deresiewicz, "The death of the artist." 2020.

Steve says WE SHOULD SAY YOU INTERVIEWED ALMOST 150 ARTISTS FOR THIS BOOK. WHAT DO YOU THINK MOTIVATES PEOPLE TO WANT TO DO THIS WORK GIVEN THAT, AS YOU JUST POINT OUT, THE ODDS OF MAKING A DECENT LIVING ARE REALLY QUITE INFINITE INFINITEMAL.

William says THEY WERE BORN TO DO THIS. THAT'S WHAT I HEARD FROM ARTISTS. THIS IS WHAT I AM. THIS IS WHAT I NEED TO DO. SOME OF THEM EXPRESSED IT IN TERMS OF I'M ADDICTED, I'M DAMAGED, I CAN'T DO ANYTHING ELSE. BUT I THINK THAT'S ONE OF THE REMARKABLE THINGS ABOUT ARTISTS AND IT TENDS NOT TO BE TRUE ABOUT OTHER LINES OF WORK, THAT YOU JUST KNOW THAT THIS IS WHO YOU ARE AND THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED TO DO. BUT I SHOULD ALSO SAY THE WAY YOU ASKED THAT QUESTION THAT ANOTHER THING THAT CONTINUES TO DRAW PEOPLE INTO A FIELD THAT'S BECOMING INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT TO SURVIVE IN IS IGNORANCE OR ILLUSION. I MEAN, I DIDN'T WRITE THIS BOOK TO DISCOURAGE ANYONE FROM BEING AN ARTIST. FAR FROM IT. BUT I DID WRITE IT TO HELP INFORM PEOPLE AND THE REST OF US WHAT IT TAKES AND HOW HARD IT IS, PARTLY BECAUSE IT'S LONG BEEN TABOO TO EVEN TALK ABOUT MONEY IN RELATION TO THE ARTS. AND THAT TABOO NEEDS TO BE BROKEN.

Steve says WE WILL TALK ABOUT MONEY GOING FORWARD, BUT MOST OF THE AUTHORS I INTERVIEW SAY THEY DIDN'T WRITE A BOOK FOR THE PAYCHEQUE, THEY WROTE IT BECAUSE THEY HAD TO WRITE IT. AND THAT MAKES THEM AN ARTIST. NOW, YOU WRITE BOOKS. ARE YOU AN ARTIST?

The caption changes to "William Deresiewicz, @wderesiewicz."

William says NO, I'M NOT AN ARTIST BECAUSE THE BOOKS I WRITE ARE NOT WHAT I WOULD CALL ART. THEY'RE NOT FICTION, POETRY. I DON'T WRITE SCREENPLAYS. BUT MY WIFE AS A FREELANCE WRITER IN PRACTICAL TERMS DOES RESEMBLE OTHER WRITERS AND MORE BROADLY ARTISTS. YOU MAKE AN IMPORTANT POINT. ARTISTSWRITERS DON'T DO THIS FOR THE MONEY. BUT LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE, THEY NEED MONEY TO DO IT BECAUSE THEY NEED MONEY TO PAY THEIR BILLS. THAT'S A REALLY IMPORTANT DISTINCTION.

Steve says DO WE HAVE TOO EXPANSIVE AN IDEA TODAY OF WHAT CONSTITUTES CREATIVITY?

William says YES, I DO THINK... WELL, I THINK WHAT'S HAPPENED IS THAT CREATIVITY HAS, IN THE LAST 20 YEARS, AGAIN LARGELY UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF SILICON VALLEY, BECOME A COMMERCIAL CONCEPT, A BUSINESS CONCEPT. YOU KNOW, WE TALK ABOUT CREATIVE NOW, THE CREATIVE ECONOMY, CREATIVE CITIES, CREATIVE SPACES, CREATIVE INDUSTRIES, AND THE RESULT IS THAT THE SPECIFIC FORM OF CREATIVITY CALLED ART, WHICH I THINK IS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER FORMS, HAS BECOME SUBMERGED IN A MORE GENERAL CATEGORY THAT INCLUDES PEOPLE WHO MAKE FOOD, PEOPLE WHO WRITE COMPUTER CODE, AND WHAT BOTHERS ME ABOUT THAT IS, FIRST OF ALL, THAT WHAT'S DISTINCTIVE ABOUT ART GETS LOST, BUT ALSO THAT ART IS BECOMING REWRITTEN IN COMMERCIAL, IN MARKET TERMS. SO, YEAH, I TALK ABOUT HOW ARTISTS NEED TO MAKE A LIVING, BUT I ALSO TALK ABOUT HOW THE MARKET HAS SUCKED THE ARTS INTO IT TO SUCH AN EXTENT THAT THE OTHER MOTIVES FOR MAKING ART ARE BECOMING HARDER AND HARDER TO SUSTAIN.

Steve says HERE'S ANOTHER WROTE FROM THE BOOK THAT AMPLIFIES ON WHAT YOU JUST SAID...

Another quote from William's book appears on screen, under the title "Who is and who isn't?" The quote reads "The individual who runs around proclaiming their status as an artist marks themselves as either a dabbler, a poser, or mediocrity. So does the one who boasts about their talent. Serious artists are far too conscious of the record of achievement in their field... A number of my subjects said they prefer to see themselves as craftspeople: 'artist' has been soiled by all the dilletantes."

Steve says TOO MANY PEOPLE OUT THERE THINKING OF THEMSELVES AS ARTISTS; IS THAT THE PROBLEM?

The caption changes to "Silicon Valley promotes illusions."

William says WELL, IT'S ONE OF THE PROBLEMS. I DO THINK IT IS. I DON'T MEAN TO DENIGRATE ANYBODY'S EFFORTS, ANYBODY'S PRACTICE. BUT ANOTHER THING THAT'S HAPPENED, AND AGAIN IT'S BEEN THE INFLUENCE OF SILICON VALLEY, ESPECIALLY APPLE, RIGHT? APPLE HAD ALL THESE EXPENSIVE MACHINES THEY WERE TRYING TO TELL US, ESPECIALLY IN THE '90s WHEN STEVE JOBS CAME BACK AND THE COMPANY WAS TRYING TO CLAW ITS WAY BACK AND THEY PRODUCED BEAUTIFUL COMPUTERS THAT COST MORE THAN EVERYBODY ELSE'S, SO THEY LAUNCHED THIS AD CAMPAIGN, BASICALLY THEY TOLD EVERYBODY THAT THEY WERE AN ARTIST. THERE WERE ALL THESE MARVELLOUS CREATIVE GENIUSES THAT THEY PUT ON THEIR BILLBOARDS AND THEY CONVINCED EVERYBODY THAT THEY NEEDED TO BUY THOSE EXPENSIVE MACHINES TO EXPRESS THEIR UNIQUE CREATIVITY. AND IN THAT WAY HAS GROWN THIS ENTIRE CREATIVITY INDUSTRY. THERE'S EVEN A CATEGORY OF BOOK CALLED CREATIVITY SELF HELP. SELF HELP THROUGH CREATIVE EXPRESSION. I THINK IT HAS CHEAPENED PEOPLE'S UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN ARTIST, WHAT IT TAKES TO BE AN ARTIST, HOW HARD IT IS TO BE AN ARTIST, AND THAT, IN TURN, IS ONE OF THE THINGS THAT'S HELPED TO DEVALUE IN A SENSE OF WHAT ARTISTS ARE OWED, NOT JUST IN TERMS OF RESPECT BUT IN TERMS OF PAYMENT.

Steve says YEAH, I...

William says WE HAVE THIS SENSE THAT A LOT OF ART IS FREE, NOW? MUSIC IS FREE. VIDEO IS FREE. WE HAVE ALSO CREATED A SET OF AL BUYS, RATIONALES THAT ENABLE US TO BELIEVE IT OUGHT TO BE FREE.

Steve says I DO PROMISE WE'RE GOING TO GET TO THE ECONOMIC ANGLE OF IT BUT I HAVE OTHER STUFF TO GET TO FIRST. WHO THEN SHOULD BE ENTITLED TO USE THAT NOMENCLATURE?

The caption changes to "Watch us anytime: tvo.org, Twitter: @theagenda, Facebook Live, YouTube."

William says LISTEN, I'M NOT SETTING RULES ABOUT WHO SHOULD BE ABLE TO USE IT. BUT THE PASSAGE YOU READ INDICATES THAT A REAL ARTIST, ONE OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A REAL ARTIST, IS THAT THEY'RE VERY RELUCTANT TO CALL THEMSELVES AN ARTIST BECAUSE THEY HAVE SO MUCH RESPECT FOR THE ACHIEVEMENTS IN THEIR FIELD, BECAUSE THEY FEEL THAT IT'S A TERM THAT NEEDS TO BE EARNED, THAT NEEDS TO BE CONQUERED. SO I'M NOT GOING TO RUN AROUND STOPPING PEOPLE FROM CALLING THEMSELVES AN ARTIST. I WOULD LIKE THE CULTURE, THE ADVERTISING BUSINESS, TO STOP ENCOURAGING EVERYBODY TO CALL THEMSELVES AN ARTIST. LISTEN, NOT EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST FOR THE SAME REASON THAT NOT EVERYONE IS AN ATHLETE. WE'RE ALL BORN WITH SOME ARTISTIC ABILITY, SOME WITH ATHLETIC, SOME OF US WITH FEW OF EITHER. FEW OF US DO THE WORK TO BECOME REAL ATHLETES OR ARTISTS.

Steve says NOW I WANT TO HIT ON THE SUBTITLE OF THE BOOK, HOW CREATORS ARE STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE IN THE AGE OF BILLIONAIRES AND BIG TECH. IN WHAT WAY IS BIG TECH... YOU HINTED AT THAT A MOMENT AGO... BUT LET'S AMPLIFY ON THIS. IN WHAT WAY IS BIG TECH MAKING BEING AN ARTIST MORE DIFFICULT?

William says SO MANY WAYS. FIRST OF ALL, THE WAY THE BIG TECH PLATFORMS HAVE DRIVEN THE PRICE OF DIGITAL CONTENT TO ZERO OR NEAR ZERO. IT STARTED WITH NAPSTER IN MUSIC IN 1999. FACEBOOK HAS A TON OF PIRATED CONTENT. GOOGLE MAKES A LOT OF ITS MONEY FROM PIRATED CONTENT. AMAZON HAS A LOT OF COUNTERFEIT BOOKS ON ITS SITE, A LOT OF VARIOUS SHENANIGANS THAT MAKE IT HARDER FOR PUBLISHERS TO SURVIVE AND THEREFORE FOR WRITERS TO GET DON'T ADVANCES. GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK HAVE ESSENTIALLY TAKEN THE AD BUSINESS AWAY WHICH MAKES IT HARDER FOR ARTISTS TO SURVIVE AND ILLUSTRATORS WHO DRAW FOR MAGAZINES AND SO FORTH. THE TECH PLATFORMS HAVE DIVERTED ON AN ONGOING BASIS TENS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS A YEAR FROM CREATORS, FROM THE PEOPLE WHO CREATE THE CONTENT THAT DRIVES SO MUCH OF THEIR PROFIT FROM THE CREATORS TO THEM, AND A BIG WAY THEY'VE DONE IT IS BY SELLING US ON THIS PROMISE OF FREE ART, FREE EVERYTHING, AND FOR THE CONSUMER IT SEEMS GREAT, BUT WE NEED TO ASK OURSELVES, LIKE, IF WE'RE GETTING SOMETHING OF VALUE FOR FREE, THERE'S GOT TO BE A PROBLEM THERE. THERE'S GOT TO BE A BREAKDOWN THERE. AND THE BREAKDOWN, THE BREAKING POINT IS THE ARTIST THEMSELVES. SO I REALLY THINK IT IS HURTING US AS CONSUMERS BECAUSE WE'RE GETTING ART THAT'S NECESSARILY MADE IN HATE, THAT IS SUPERFICIAL. ARTISTS CAN'T... THEY'RE SO BUSY STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE, MAKING STUFF, MARKETING THEMSELVES, THAT THE WORK THEY DO INEVITABLY SUFFERS.

Steve says YOU MAKE THE ARGUMENT VERY CLEARLY IN YOUR BOOK, BUT JUST FOR ARGUMENT'S SAKE, LET ME PUSH BACK WITH WHAT THE BILLIONAIRES OF TODAY WOULD SAY. DAVID GEFFEN SAYS I SPEND 120 percent OF MY INCOME ON ART. 100 YEARS AGO THE CARNEGIES WERE PUTTING UP LIBRARIES ALL OVER THE PLACE. OTHERS CREATING GREAT ART THAT HAS LASTED FOR CENTURIES. ARE WEALTHY PEOPLE NOT ESSENTIAL TO THE CREATION OF A WHOLE ARTISTIC CULTURE?

William says I DON'T KNOW THAT THEY ARE ESSENTIAL. THIS HE CERTAINLY HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY. I THINK THE MONEY THAT THEY DIVERT TO THE ARTS IS A SMALL FRACTION OF THE MONEY THAT THEY TAKE FROM THE ARTS. BUT HERE'S THE REAL ISSUE: DO WE WANT THE DAVID GEFFENS OF THE WORLD, TODAY'S MEDICIS AND CARNEGIES, DECIDING WHAT ART WE GET TO SEE? BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT WE'VE COME TO. THE MIDDLE CLASS AUDIENCE IS BEING DESTROYED BECAUSE THE MIDDLE CLASS IS BEING DESTROYED. IN ANY CASE, IF THEY'RE NOT PAYING ANYTHING, THEY DON'T REALLY HAVE A ROLE IN WHAT GETS SEEN. SO IT'S THE PLUTOCRATS THAT HAVE A ROLE IN SUSTAINING THE ARTS. I THINK THAT'S A PROFOUNDLY DANGEROUS SITUATION.

Steve says I THINK YOU ALSO SUGGEST, BUT PUSH BACK ON ME, IF YOU LIKE, BUT ONE OF THE ARTISTS YOU INTERVIEWED FOR THE BOOK SAID YOU CAN'T WIN AS AN ARTIST. EITHER YOU'RE A FRAUD BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT MAKING ENOUGH MONEY OR YOU'RE TOO GREEDY BECAUSE YOU'RE MAKING TOO MUCH MONEY. SPEAK TO THAT CONUNDRUM, IF YOU WOULD?

William says THAT GOES TO THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUE AROUND MONEY AND ART. SO MANY PEOPLE THAT I INTERVIEWED FOR THE BOOK WERE WILLING TO TALK TO ME ABOUT INTIMATE DETAILS OF THEIR FINANCIAL LIVES BECAUSE THEY WANTED TO BREAK THROUGH THOSE RESISTANCES. SO THAT PERSON IN PARTICULAR, A YOUNG ANIMATOR, WHO HAS SPOKEN ABOUT THIS IN PUBLIC ABOUT HER CONFLICTS WITH MONEY BECAUSE YOU'RE SUPPOSEDLY NOT SUPPOSED TO THINK ABOUT MONEY. YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO ASK FOR MONEY FOR YOUR ART. SHE FEELS SHAME ABOUT NEGOTIATING FOR HER FEES. SHE FEELS SHAME ABOUT NOT NEGOTIATING FOR HER FEES. SHE FEELS SHAME ABOUT TAKING PUBLIC ASSISTANCE BECAUSE SHE FEELS LIKE OTHER PEOPLE NEED IT MORE. SO BY TALKING, BY REALLY TALKING ABOUT THE FACT THAT ACTUALLY MAKING ART IS WORK, MAKING ART SHOULD BE REMUNERATED IN FINANCIAL TERMS LIKE ANY OTHER WORK, WE CAN HELP ARTISTS ADVOCATE FOR THEMSELVES BETTER AND STOP TORTURING THEMSELVES FOR DOING WHAT THEY NEED TO DO.

Steve says YOU KNOW, WE ALL GOT TO MAKE A LIVING. SO WHY IS SHE SO... WHAT'S THE WORD I'M LOOKING FOR?... CONFLICTED BY THIS PARADOX IN HER LIFE?

The caption changes to "Too much supply; not enough (paid) demand."

William says YEAH, BECAUSE, YEAH, WE ALL NEED TO MAKE A LIVING, BUT THIS IS SOMETHING THAT PEOPLE IN THE ARTS REALLY DON'T TALK ABOUT VERY MUCH. I MEAN, IN ART SCHOOL, THEY DON'T TALK ABOUT IT. INDEED, THE WHOLE MYTH THAT... REALLY IT'S THE MYTH THAT WE INHERITED FROM THE ROMANTIC AGE FROM THE 18TH AND 19TH CENTURY THAT MAKING ART WAS A KIND OF NEW PRIESTHOOD AND MONEY... AND ANY CONNECTION BETWEEN MONEY AND ART INEVITABLY SULLIES THE ART, WE ARE A SELLOUT IF WE THINK ABOUT MONEY. THAT'S WHY PEOPLE LIKE HER AND SO MANY OTHERS DON'T MAKE THE SIMPLE EQUATION OF, LIKE, I NEED TO MAKE A LIVING, I'M MAKING SOMETHING OF VALUE FOR OTHER PEOPLE, THEY SHOULD PAY ME FOR IT. I SHOULDN'T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH IT. THEY SHOULDN'T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH IT. THE AUDIENCE SHOULDN'T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH IT. BUT UNFORTUNATELY THINGS AREN'T THAT SIMPLE.

Steve says WELL, ONE WAY TO TAKE ALL OF THOSE SULLYING EFFECTS OUT OF THE EQUATION IS TO HAVE ARTISTS SUPPORTED BY THE PUBLIC. AND YOU DO DISCUSS THIS IN YOUR BOOK AND YOU'RE NOT ALL THAT KEEN ON THE IDEA. HOW COME?

William says YEAH. I THINK IT'S COMPLICATED. I THINK I WOULD ACTUALLY SAY EVEN SINCE I WROTE THE BOOK I'VE BECOME A LITTLE MORE OPEN TO THAT, IF ONLY BECAUSE I THINK WE NEED AN ALL OF THE ABOVE SOLUTION. YOU KNOW, WE NEED TO REFORM THE MARKETS. WE NEED PUBLIC FUNDING TO BE BETTER. CERTAINLY IN AMERICA WHERE IT'S ABSURDLY SMALL. IT'S LIKE LESS THAN 2 BILLION dollars A YEAR AT ALL LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT. SO I'M NOT AGAINST PUBLIC FUNDING AS A GENERAL PRINCIPLE. I'M AGAINST IT AS A UNIVERSAL SOLUTION TO THIS. AND THE REASON I AM IS THAT PUBLIC FUNDING ALSO HAS ITS OWN CORRUPTION. PUBLIC FUNDING, NON-PROFIT FUNDING, FOUNDATIONS, SOMEBODY DECIDES WHO GETS THE MONEY, AND ONCE THAT ENTERS INTO IT, YOU HAVE CRONYISM, YOU HAVE INSIDERISM, YOU HAVE ALL KINDS OF BIASES, AND PEOPLE WHO WORK IN THE NON-PROFIT SECTORS AND THE ARTS, THEY SEE THIS ALL THE TIME. THEY UNDERSTAND THIS. THAT'S WHY I DON'T THINK PUBLIC FUNDING IS NECESSARILY THE PANACEA THAT PEOPLE MIGHT THINK IT IS.

The caption changes to "Subscribe to The Agenda Podcast: tvo.org/theagenda."

Steve says NOT THE PANACEA, BUT DON'T YOU HAVE TO PICK YOUR POISON HERE. EITHER YOU GET THE CRONYISM OR ARTISTS STARVING. WHICH WOULD YOU PREFER?

William says WHAT I WOULD REALLY PREFER IS THAT WE REFORM THE MARKET SO THAT ARTISTS CAN GET PAID AGAIN THE WAY THEY DESERVE TO AND THE TENS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS THAT ARTISTS ARE GENERATING THAT ARE GOING TO THE TECH PLATFORMS FLOWS BACK TO ARTISTS. I MEAN, YES, PUBLIC FUNDING GOOD, SOME LEVEL OF PHILANTHROPY, PLUTO ACCURATES HAVE SOME ROLE TO PLAY, BUT WE NEED TO CREATE A MARKET THAT WORKS FOR ARTISTS AND THE WAY TO DO THAT IS TO TAKE ON THE TECH PLATFORMS.

Steve says HOW WOULD YOU DO THAT?

William says WELL, THIS IS NOT MY AREA OF EXPERTISE, BUT BASICALLY YOU BREAK UP THESE COMPANIES THAT HAVE AMASSED... YOU KNOW, THAT HAVE BEEN BUYING SMALLER COMPANIES AND CREATING SYNERGIES THAT ENABLE THEM TO SMOTHER COMPETITION. SO YOU BREAK THEM UP LIKE WE BROKE UP THE MONOPOLIES IN CARNEGIE'S DAY, AND THEN THE CORE PLATFORMS THAT CAN'T BE BROKEN UP SHOULD BE TREATED LIKE UTILITIES, WHICH CAN'T BE BROKEN UP, WHICH MEANS THAT THEY'RE REGULATED BY THE GOVERNMENT. MAYBE THERE'S A RATE-SETTING COMMISSION FOR HOW MUCH YouTube HAS TO PAY MUSICIANS FOR STREAMING RATES. RIGHT NOW, THE RATE IS THOUGHT TO BE 7 hundredth OF A CREPT PER STREAM ON YouTube AND YouTube IS HALF OF ALL MUSIC LISTENING. IF YOUR MUSIC IS STREAMED A MILLION TIMES ON YouTube, A MILLION TIMES, YOU GET 700 dollars. SOMEBODY NEEDS TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT. AND I THINK THAT THAT SOMEBODY NEEDS TO BE THE GOVERNMENT.

Steve says WELL, WHAT IF THE GOVERNMENT TRIES TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT AND YouTube SAYS, "OKAY, FINE. YOU WANT TO MESS WITH OUR PROFIT SYSTEM HERE, WE JUST WON'T HAVE THOSE PEOPLE ON OUR PLATFORM," AND THAT'S A LOSS FOR THEM BECAUSE WE WON'T BE ABLE TO HAVE THE EYEBALLS ON OUR PRODUCT THAT BEE WANT TO HAVE.

William says I'VE NEVER HEARD THAT SUGGESTION BECAUSE I THINK THEY STILL WOULD MAKE A TON OF MONEY. THAT ACTUALLY DOESN'T BOTHER ME AT ALL. I MEAN, IF YOU WANT LISTEN TO MUSIC ON YouTube, YOU'RE NOT GOING TO STOP LISTENING TO MUSIC. YOU'RE GOING TO GO TO A PLATFORM THAT PAYS MUSICIANS BETTER. SO I WOULD LOVE FOR YouTube TO... FOR GOOGLE, YouTube IS GOOGLE, I WOULD LOVE FOR GOOGLE TO WALK AWAY FROM MUSIC STREAMING. I MEAN, WHY ARE THE RATES THE LOWEST ON YouTube? BECAUSE IT'S GOOGLE. BECAUSE THEY'RE SO POWERFUL. THEY'RE THE BIGGEST LOBBYIST IN WASHINGTON AND HAVE BEEN FOR YEARS. SO, YOU KNOW, MAKE MY DAY. WALK AWAY FROM MUSIC STREAMING.

Steve says YOU'RE CHANNELING CLINT EASTWOOD. A NOTE TO OUR DIRECTOR, SHELDON OSMOND, LET'S GO TO THE BOTTOM OF PAGE 4 AND BRING UP THIS QUOTE FROM THE BOOK EARLIER THAN WAS ANTICIPATED BUT SINCE WE'RE HERE RIGHT NOW, LET'S DO IT. WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Another quote from the book appears on screen, under the title "What can be done?" The quote reads "The devastation of the art economy is rooted in the great besetting sin of contemporary American society: extreme and growing inequality. To be middle class is, more or less by definition, to have disposable income. And when people get a little extra money one of the things that they spend on is art. Money circulates within communities but only if it's present in the first place. We do not need the government to pay for art, or the rich with their philanthropy. We only need each other."

Steve says HOW DO YOU SEE THAT WORKING?

The caption changes to "In search of dutiful audience."

William says WHAT I'M SAYING HERE IS WHILE THERE ARE LOTS OF THINGS THAT NEED TO BE CHANGED WITHIN THE ARTS ECONOMY, UNFORTUNATELY THE REAL SOLUTION HAS TO LIE IN REFORMING THE ENTIRE ECONOMY, BECAUSE THE BASIC PROBLEM IS THAT IT'S HARD TO ASK PEOPLE... IT'S HARD TO ASK PEOPLE TO PAY MORE THAN THEY NEED TO FOR ART IF THEY DON'T HAVE TO, BUT IT'S HARD TO EVEN FORCE PEOPLE TO PAY MORE FOR ART IF WE COULD DO THAT THROUGH GOVERNMENT ACTION, BECAUSE THE MIDDLE CLASS AS A WHOLE, NOT JUST THE MIDDLE CLASS OF ARTISTS, THE MIDDLE CLASS AS A WHOLE IS BEING DECIMATED. IT'S BEING DECIMATED BY HEALTH CARE COSTS, HOUSING COSTS, COMMISSION COSTS, FALLING WAGES, STAGNANT WAGES. THAT'S WHAT I'M SAYING AND THAT'S THE END OF THE BOOK THAT YOU READ THAT PASSAGE FROM. THE REAL ANSWER IS TO DO THE VERY DIFFICULT BUT NECESSARY WORK OF RESTORING AN ECONOMY THAT WORKS FOR EVERYONE, THAT WORKS FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS. HISTORICALLY THE GREAT AUDIENCE FOR ART IN THE LAST 200, 300 YEARS HAS BEEN THE MIDDLE CLASS. IT WAS THE MIDDLE CLASS THAT TOOK ART AWAY FROM THE MEDICISs, WAS NO LONGER BEHOLDEN TO THE CHURCH, TO THE LORD, TO THE KING. WE NEED TO REBUILD THE MIDDLE CLASS AND THEN WE DON'T NEED TO RELY ON I THINK GOVERNMENT OR PHILANTHROPY. WE CAN RELY ON EACH OTHER WHICH I THINK IS THE BEST SITUATION.

Steve says EVEN IF WE REBUILD THE MIDDLE CLASS WE HAVE STILL BEEN UNDER THE IMPRESSION FOR THE LAST... WHO KNOWS? 10, 15 YEARS... THAT WE'RE ENTITLED TO A CULTURE OF FREE. I DON'T MEAN TO PICK ON THEM BECAUSE I KNOW MANY OF THEM ARE HAVING A TOUGH TIME EKING OUT A LIVING UNDER THE CURRENT CIRCUMSTANCES, MILLENNIALS THINK THEY ARE ENTITLED TO EVERYTHING FOR FREE. WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT THAT?

William says YEAH, THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION. I DON'T WANT TO PRETEND TO HAVE AN EASY ANSWER TO THAT. I MEAN, I THINK CULTURE AND PSYCHOLOGY ARE VERY HARD TO CHANGE, SO I THINK WAGGING YOUR FINGER AT MILLENNIALS AND SAYING, YOU SHOULD PAY FOR ART, IS LIKELY TO HAVE LIMITED EFFECT. BUT, AGAIN, ONE OF THE REASONS THAT THINGS CAN BE FREE IS BECAUSE OF THE WAY THE MARKET IS STRUCTURED. SO THIS ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF PIRACY THAT GOOGLE AND OTHER PLATFORMS CONDONE AND ENCOURAGE, THEY CAN PUT A STOP TO THAT IF THEY WERE FORCED TO DO THAT. IF WE... YOU KNOW, I MEAN, IF WE CHANGE STREAMING RATES, IT MIGHT BE THAT SPOTIFY HAS TO GO OUT OF BUSINESS, BUT SPOTIFY'S MODEL DEPENDS ON UNDERPAYING ARTISTS. I GUESS WHAT I'M SAYING IS, YOU AREN'T GOING TO GET PEOPLE TO VOLUNTARILY STOP TAKING FREE STUFF, BUT YOU COULD MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THEM... LISTEN, WE HAVE LOCKS ON THE DOORS OF STORES AND POLICE ON THE STREETS TO MAKE SURE PEOPLE DON'T SHOP-LIFT. THERE SHOULDN'T BE ANYTHING CONTROVERSIAL ABOUT PREVENTING PEOPLE FROM PIRATING MUSIC, PIRATING VIDEO. EVEN IF PEOPLE HAVE COME TO EXPECT THAT THAT'S THEIR BIRTHRIGHT... I MEAN, AS YOU SAID, THIS IS ONLY THE LAST 20 YEARS, AND THAT CAN BE CHANGED.

Steve says IT CAN BE CHANGED BUT I'VE TALKED TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE SAID, LOOK IT, THE FACT THAT I KNOW THE TECHNOLOGY TO GET THIS STUFF FOR FREE IS YOUR PROBLEM, NOT MINE, THIS IS THE BUSINESS MODEL YOU'VE COME UP WITH, AND IF I'M SIMPLY TAKING ADVANTAGE OF IT, WELL, GOOD FOR ME. HOW DO YOU PUSH BACK AGAINST THAT?

William says AGAIN, I WOULDN'T PUSH BACK. I THINK SOME LEVEL OF MORAL PERSUASION MIGHT BE GOOD AND THAT WAS PART OF THE POINT OF MY BOOK, ARTISTS ARE REAL, ARTISTS ARE REAL PEOPLE. THE OTHER END OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN FOR ART IS NOT CORPORATIONS, IT'S INDIVIDUALS. SO WE'VE HAD A CONSUMER MOVEMENT. WE'VE HAD A CONSUMER MOVEMENT IN FOOD WHERE WE'VE BECOME MORE AWARE OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF CHEAP FOOD AND NOW PEOPLE TALK ABOUT FAST FASHION AND SWEAT SHOPS IN BANGLADESH AND VIETNAM AND BECOMING A MORE CONSCIOUS CONSUMER. SO WE CAN DO THAT. BUT WHAT I'M RECOGNIZE SAYING IS, THIS WHOLE FREE ECONOMY IS AN ILLUSION, IT'S BUILT ON DIVERSION OF FUNDS, IT'S BUILT ON VENTURE CAPITAL MONEY. LOOK AT UBER AS AN EXAMPLE... NOT IN THE ARTS, BUT IT'S PROPPED UP WITH AN OCEAN OF VENTURE CAPITAL MONEY AND IT'S SELLING ITS RIDES AT A LOSS, RIGHT? WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT. NOT AS INDIVIDUALS, BUT AS GOVERNMENTS.

Steve says LET ME ASK YOU ABOUT THE EDUCATION WORLD. DO YOU THINK THAT THERE'S A ROLE FOR, I DON'T KNOW, ELEMENTARY, HIGH SCHOOL, POSTSECONDARY TO PUT A GREATER ACCENT ON THE APPRECIATION OF ART SO THAT BY THE TIME THESE YOUNG PEOPLE BECOME ADULTS, THEY WILL ALREADY BE INTO A SENSE THAT THIS HAS VALUE AND I NEED TO PAY SOMETHING FOR IT?

William says I THINK THAT'S A GREAT POINT. I THINK THAT'S ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. AT LEAST IN THE UNITED STATES, THESE SORT OF ASSESSMENT REGIMES, TESTING REGIMES, HAVE DRIVEN ARTS EDUCATION OUT OF PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOL TO A VERY GREAT EXTENT IN FAVOUR OF THINGS YOU CAN GIVE PEOPLE A TEST ON, BASICALLY MATH AND READING. SO I THINK GREATER ARTS EDUCATION, GREATER APPRECIATION FOR THE ARTS, AND NOT JUST BECAUSE IT WILL MAKE PEOPLE PAY MONEY FOR ART LATER ON DOWN THE ROAD BUT BECAUSE IT'S REALLY ENRICHING FOR THEM. I WOULD SAY IT'S A HUMAN RIGHT TO HAVE THAT KIND OF EDUCATION. BUT LET ME SAY SOMETHING ELSE ABOUT PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION THAT REALLY GREW OUT OF MY INTERVIEW, WITH AMAZING CONSISTENCY, MY SUBJECTS SAID NOT ONLY THAT THEY WILL BORN TO BE ARTISTS, THEY KNEW THEY WERE ARTISTS FROM A VERY YOUNG AGE, BUT THEY GOT AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF RESISTANCE TO BEING ARTISTS FROM THEIR FAMILY, FROM THEIR PEERS, FROM THEIR SOCIETY, THEIR ENVIRONMENT, AND ALSO FROM THEIR SCHOOLS. SCHOOLS SEEM TO HAVE A VERY DIFFICULT TIME, ESPECIALLY IN OUR AGE OF ASSESSMENT REGIMES, RECOGNIZING THE VALUE OF ARTISTIC CHILDREN, ESPECIALLY IF THEY DON'T ALSO HAPPEN TO HAVE ACADEMIC... YOU KNOW, STANDARD HIGH-ACHIEVING ACADEMIC ABILITY. SO THEY'RE TOLD THAT THEY'RE DUMB. THEY'RE TOLD THAT THEY'RE LAZY. THEY'RE STIGMATIZED. THEY'RE NOT ENCOURAGED. THEY'RE NOT RECOGNIZED AS HAVING TREMENDOUS VALUE BUT A DIFFERENT KIND OF VALUE FROM, YOU KNOW, YOUR SORT OF TYPICAL VALEDICTORIAN TYPE. I THINK IT'S ONE OF THE REASONS THAT GENUINE ARTISTS GET DERAILED AT A VERY YOUNG AGE AND NEVER HAVE A CHANCE TO GIVE US THE GIFT OF THEIR TALENT. BUT I THINK IT'S ALSO A TREMENDOUS LOSS FOR SOCIETY BECAUSE THESE PEOPLE HAVE SOMETHING UNIQUE TO OFFER.

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Steve says YEAH, THE PEOPLE YOU WERE INTERVIEWING IN THE BOOK WERE NOT EXACTLY THE BARACK OBAMAS WHO GET 8-FIGURE BOOK DEALS. YOU WERE DEALING WITH THE EXACT OPPOSITE END OF THE SPECTRUM. AND I DID WONDER WHEN YOU WERE TALKING TO THEM, HOW MUCH DID THEY APPRECIATE THE FACT THAT SOMEONE WITH YOUR REPUTATION WAS TAKING THE TROUBLE TO LISTEN TO THEIR ISSUES AND TO TRY TO FIND A WAY FORWARD FOR THEM?

William says WELL, I THINK THEY APPRECIATED IT A LOT, AND SINCE THE BOOK CAME OUT, I'VE BEEN GETTING EMAILS TO THAT EFFECT, THAT IT'S INCREDIBLY GRATIFYING TO ME. I DON'T LOOK AT MYSELF AS ANY KIND OF SAVIOUR. IT WAS A PROFOUND EXPERIENCE FOR ME TO TALK TO THESE PEOPLE. I WOULD ASK FOR AN HOUR AND SOMETIMES WE'D END UP TALKING TWO HOURS. BECAUSE WHEN YOU ASK PEOPLE FOR THEIR STORIES, YOU KNOW, A REAL CONNECTION HAPPENS, WHEN YOU JUST LISTEN TO PEOPLE'S EXPERIENCES. AND, YEAH, THEY WERE REALLY GRATEFUL TO HAVE SOMEBODY DO THAT AND HAVE SOMEBODY ADVOCATE FOR THEM. I MEAN, ARTISTS ARE REALLY GOOD AT ADVOCATING FOR THEMSELVES WHEN THEY ARE ABLE TO FIND THE TIME TO DO IT, AND MANY OF THEM ARE ADVOCATING IN ORGANIZATIONS FOR THEMSELVES. BUT A LOT OF ESPECIALLY THE YOUNGER ARTISTS THAT I TALKED TO, IT'S JUST ALL THEY CAN DO TO KEEP THEIR NOSTRILS ABOVE WATER. SO, YEAH. I MEAN, ONE OF THE REASONS I WROTE THE BOOK IS BECAUSE I WANTED ARTISTS TO HAVE SOMETHING TO HOLD UP AND SAY, HEY, MOM AND DAD AND EVERYBODY ELSE, THIS IS WHAT I'M GOING THROUGH AND YOU NEED TO PAY SOME ATTENTION TO THAT.

Steve says LET'S DO ONE MORE EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK. YOU WRITE: ARTISTS ARE RESENTED FOR DARING TO FOLLOW THEIR DREAMS, FOR SUPPOSEDLY AVOIDING ADULT RESPONSIBILITIES, WHO ARE THEY NOT TO SUFFER LIKE THE REST OF US? AT THE SAME TIME, THE ARTIST'S LIFE IS GLAMOURIZED, ROMANTICIZED, TREATED AS A FANTASY FOR WISHFUL FILAMENT, A VISION OF FREEDOM AND PLEASURE AND PLAY." YOU KNOW, WE SORT OF CALLED THAT THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD, YOU KNOW, ON THE ONE HAND THEY DO LOVE THE BOHEMIAN LIFESTYLE TO A CERTAIN EXTENT. ON THE OTHER HAND, REALITY BITES. DO THEY NOT WANT THE FREEDOM AND THE PLEASURE AND THE PLAY AND ALL OF THAT AS PART OF THEIR LIVES?

William says SURE, OF COURSE THEY DO. OF COURSE THEY DO. AND THAT'S WHAT'S GRATIFYING ABOUT BEING AN ARTIST AND THAT'S WHY PEOPLE CONTINUE TO DO IT. I THINK WHAT I'M GETTING AT IN THAT PASSAGE IS THE ENORMOUS MISCONCEPTIONS WE HAVE ABOUT WHO ARTISTS ARE. I MEAN, IN THAT SECTION OF THE BOOK, I TALK ABOUT OUR STEREOTYPES OF ARTISTS, THEY'RE LIKE LAZY WEIRDOS, THEY'RE SELF INDILIGENT, AND WHAT ARTISTS HAVE TO BE LIKE, ASIDE FROM TALENTED. IT BROUGHT IT HOME TO ME IN A WAY I HADN'T RECOGNIZED BEFORE. ARTISTS, FIRST OF ALL, ARE INCREDIBLY HARD-WORKING. THEY'RE ALSO THE OPPOSITE OF DREAMY. THEY'RE STRONG-WILLED, DETERMINED, FOCUSED, RESILIENT. A LIFE IN THE ARTS IS A LIFE OF ALMOST CONSTANT REJECTION. MAKING ART IS A LIFE OF ALMOST CONSTANT SELF-DOUBT. SO THESE PEOPLE ARE REALLY TOUGH. THEY'RE WILLING TO DO WITHOUT. AND THEY'RE ALSO REALLY GENEROUS, ESPECIALLY WITH EACH OTHER AND REALLY WITH ALL OF US. THAT'S ANOTHER THING THAT I WANT PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND, IS WHAT IT REALLY TAKES AND WHAT IT'S REALLY LIKE.

Steve says YOU DEFINITELY DID THAT SO I HAVE ONE LAST QUESTION FOR YOU HERE, AND THAT IS, WELL, YOU CLAIM YOU ARE NOT AN ARTIST, DESPITE THE FACT THAT YOU'RE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR. OKAY, WE'LL GRANT YOU THAT. BUT IF YOU WERE ABLE TO HAVE BEEN BORN WITH WHAT YOU CONSIDER TO BE AN ARTISTIC GIFT, WHAT DO YOU WISH IT WOULD HAVE BEEN?

William says WELL, I MEAN, I'M A WRITER, SO I WISH THAT I HAD THE ABILITY TO WRITE NOVELS. I WAS A SAD YOUNG LITERARY MAN WHO WANTED TO WRITE NOVELS. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT? I REALIZED LATER, ONCE I HAD ACTUALLY MET SOME NOVELISTS, THAT I WAS NEVER GOING TO BE A NOVELIST BECAUSE THESE PEOPLE... LIKE, THEY'RE REALLY GOOD AT TELLING STORIES, THEY'RE REALLY GOOD AT REMEMBERING STORIES, THEY HAVE STORIES RUNNING THROUGH THEIR HEADS ALL THE TIME, AND I REALIZE THAT'S JUST NOT WHO I AM. LIKE, I THINK IN TERMS OF IDEAS. AND SO I WRITE IN TERMS OF IDEAS. BUT I'VE ALSO REALIZED THAT THAT'S OKAY. I THINK PART OF WHAT I DON'T LIKE ABOUT THIS FETISHIZATION OF CREATIVITY OR OF THE ARTIST IS THERE ARE LOTS OF OTHER VALUABLE THINGS TO BE ALSO. WE DON'T ALL HAVE TO BE ARTISTS TO HAVE THE SELF-RESPECT THAT WE WANT TO HAVE.

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Steve says THAT'S A NICE PLACE TO LEAVE IT. "THE DEATH OF THE ARTIST: HOW CREATORS ARE STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE IN THE AGE OF BILLIONAIRES AND BIG TECH." WE'RE SO GLAD THAT IT HAS BROUGHT WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ TO OUR VIRTUAL STUDIO ANYWAY TONIGHT. THANKS FOR JOINING US FROM PORTLAND, OREGON.

William says THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

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