“The Artist Always Gets Paid Last”
I am going to tell you a story, and I want you to listen closely.
Disclaimer: If you have any pre-existing conditions such as a proclivity for beauty, a sensitivity for the creative endeavor, a general understanding of business, a shred of decency, or a moral compass, please consult your doctor before listening to this tale. If at any time you feel disgusted or disheartened, please consider stepping away and returning at a later time.
There once was an island where paint happily leapt onto blank canvases, where LEDs flickered with the reflection of an inspired concept, where sincerity and vision rang true. The inhabitants of this island often labored with bleary eyes and numbing fingers to just get.it.out. You see, the islanders had this dreaded condition known as creative vision – this intangible force that is more than feeling, more than vigor. They were afflicted with this vision that bubbled up from a deep well of longing for change. Each island colonist had migrated from across a banal sea of excess, sellouts, and avarice, where creative vision is forgotten, or scorned, or wasted. On the island, they were free to explore, to challenge, to share their condition. It came out strongest with cooperation, and was translated into boxes of flickering questions and pigmented declarations.
The islanders built a community with a foundation of mutual trust and respect that sustained their philosophy of collaboration. They were able to produce physical expressions of intangible creativity and to exchange them for legal tender, which they used to obtain supplies to keep pouring their vision out, and to feed their families. Now, to be able to exchange passion for capital is a rare and arduous privilege, and the islanders were grateful for the freedom to pursue their beliefs. As the years passed, the islanders began to venture off of their papercut-strewn shores and responded to the call of sirens of distant lands. “Come to us,” they beckoned, “we believe in your vision.” Parchments and words were exchanged, and the islanders welcomed outsiders into their system of collaboration. The islanders poured more and more of their minds out, and sent creativity spinning out over the earth to be shared and exchanged. They were not naïve, these islanders, but they believed that others who spouted the gospel of creativity must therefore adhere to the same decent standards that they had set for themselves. On the island, if one made an agreement for an exchange, there must always follow -an exchange. There was no room for gray.
And so, the material expressions of the creative condition were sent out, and those on the island waited patiently to hear news of their sweat, time, and cerebrations. As the weeks dragged on, the islanders grew restless, and sent word to those they had entrusted with their hope and their hard work. Curious and alarming tales began to lazily wash up on the island’s shore. The islanders learned of a mysterious circumstance known as “spam,” which seemed to afflict every message sent from the islanders to their distant partners. Apparently, this “spam” caused conversations to be misplaced, or delayed, and “spam” seemed to follow the islanders’ communications wherever they went. When messages concerning the expressions of creativity miraculously escaped the curse of spam, they were answered with tales of even more disquieting events. One of the partners disappeared while on vacation, and was thus unable to respond to the islanders’ queries. The islanders had never heard of an eight-month vacation, and were greatly concerned. It can only be assumed that the partner was lost at sea, or was taken prisoner by barbaric pirates, for what else would have prevented them from providing the islanders with their hard-earned share? The islanders shuddered in fear for their poor partners, and were thankful when the horrific vacation was finally at an end.
As the years went on, the islanders continued their labor and poured untold amounts of energy, time, and resources into exporting creativity all over the world. In this time, they found that their distant partners began to be plagued with even more unfortunate mysteries. These partners, with communication systems that were constantly out of control, would have bizarre success in sending out notices that in their land, new tariffs were declared and the islanders would be penalized for their desire to collaborate by bearing this financial burden. The islanders could only assume that these partners had fallen prey to some terrible spell, as this was simply not the way that these agreements operated. Earnings were earnings; this was simply the way. More and more time would pass, and the islanders would try in vain to collect their share of profits, but sometimes partners’ coin masters (or “accountant” in that land’s tongue) only worked once a month, or seemed to forget entirely that the islanders had conceived of, created, and consigned their vision to them. Through this mendacious fog, the islanders did once witness a miracle. A lover of the islanders’ vision made a pilgrimage to the island after arranging to acquire a piece of creativity from a distant partner. On the eve of the pilgrim’s arrival, the islanders received their share in full, and this from a partner who had long since thought to have disappeared from the earth. Encouraged by this rare occurrence, the islanders marched on.
The islanders heard tales of a distant land of big apples, sometimes referred to as NYC, where others who suffered from creative vision were able to obtain their due. In this mystical land the gods of law enforced partnerships between producers and partners. Those producers, who were very much like the islanders, were not allowed to be preyed upon by unscrupulous partners. Under the sway of the mighty NYACAL deity, partners had to keep the producers’ earnings separate from their own assets, lest they fall into the same intriguing misfortunes that the islanders’ distant partners often did. Thus, producers’ consignments were protected, and creativity could change hands in a civil manner. The islanders were shocked that none of their distant partners had ever heard of such a law, since they were so frequently delayed by abstruse circumstances, and it seemed that the islanders’ would-be profits often wrongfully comingled with those of the partners.
One day, after the latest phenomenon had taken hold of a partner’s transfer, a young islander decided to set out and witness these lands condemned to perpetual hindrances. The youth set sail with confidence, and trusted that these curses might lift upon arrival. The youth called on one of the partners, and expected to be greeted with warmth and camaraderie. When the partner’s door swung open, the youth’s eyes bulged in terror at the site of a jackal-human hybrid in fine tailored clothing. Honey dripped from the charlatan’s mouth. Its eyes were deep holes of $$$, and lies seeped from its decaying flesh. “I believe in your vision!” the jackal screeched as the youth fled.
“I believe in your vision! I believe in my profits! I believe in NOTHING!”
This appalling tale has been passed down for generations through oral storytelling, and has only recently been put to paper. Many of the situations described in the story seem to be based in truth. The NYCAL referred to by the narrator is the New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, which was implemented in November of 2012. This law protects artists from the situation that befell the fabled islanders – it states that consigned works and resulting payments are treated as held in trust, and must be kept separate from a gallery’s assets. Unfortunately for the islanders, such a law did not seem to be in place.
Scholars of ancient literature believe that this genre of horror was developed to discourage creative young minds from pursuing their talents with open hearts and shrewd minds. Although this kind of thinking has long since fallen out of fashion, the tale remains a chilling one. It speaks of a land where beauty and trust are rewarded with lies. This is a land where the unthinkable happens. This is a land where artists always get paid last.