An aside about art for art’s sake

I want to muse on an interesting experience I just had, and how it relates both to specific projects and the overall theme here at Parenthesis Press: an artist just declined an offer to illustrate an upcoming game because the artist didn’t want to be paid for work.

Interesting notion, isn’t it? But it’s not that strange, because we all know about the idea of it being noble to do something just because you love it and not for personal gain. It’s an old chestnut in the game publishing industry that none of us are really in this to earn huge profits, after all – the joke going around right now is “the way to make a million dollars creating games is to start with two million dollars”. (This isn’t exactly true in the video game realm, of course, but that’s a different beast altogether.)

It’s too facile to say that Western culture respects artists for placing their artistic endeavors beyond mercantile concerns, because in a great many ways, it doesn’t. As a post-graduate student in the humanities, I can personally attest that there is a persistent undercurrent of disbelief, often with a tone one might paint as ‘scoffing’ if one wanted to be uncharitable, that anyone who does anything and doesn’t make as much money from it as they can is a fool of the lowest order.

I’ll respect the artist’s privacy by not naming them, and won’t press the issue. Creators should always have the right to do – or not do – what they want with their work. It’s the side of the coin seen far less often: those who advocate that artists should be free to set their rates of compensation for their output may forget that that includes setting their rates lower than we perhaps would ourselves. If the artist is happy creating their gorgeous pieces separate from the buying and selling aspect that frequently accompanies trying to live in the modern world, then my only place is to be sad that I can’t share their really cool stuff with the world through the medium of what I’m creating.