Monday, November 16, 2015

What value does arts have in our society?

I was listening to an interview on a talk radio show recently when this happened, and I turned to my wife, who is also a photographer, and asked ourselves..."How many times has that happened?"  Let me lay out the scenario for you.

The hosts were interviewing a local newscaster, as they usually do.  This was, however, a special occasion, as the newscaster had written a children's book.  One of our newscasters had written a book, and it had gotten national attention.  This wasn't the first person from our local media to go this route, but it was the most recent.  We listened intently as she went over her process of writing, editing, the publishing world, etc.  One thing, however, rubbed us the wrong way.  One of the host asked about who did the illustrations.

Let me take a moment, at this point, to remind everyone that we live in Orlando...not the largest arts community on Earth, but definitely not the smallest.  There are plenty of hardworking, creative, dedicated artist.  Orlando is actually going through a little bit of a renaissance as of recent years; this is no longer JUST the land of the mouse.  Back to the story:

She came to answer that she didn't want to spend any money on the artwork.  She didn't have much money left in her budget, and didn't see an artist as necessary, so she just went to the local art school, and had the jobs office there find a hungry college student.  She paid the college student very little, in return for letting the kid use the artwork in their portfolio.

Look.  I get it.  College kids need opportunity, right?  Its gigs like this that can help build portfolios, garner much needed experience, and help build successful careers within our arts community.  The problem I have is that this was a major project.  This book went worldwide, and here was this author openly demeaning the meaning of the artwork in her own book by saying it wasn't worth spending money on.  Worse yet, the hosts of the show just let it slide completely, as if they didn't care.  This, my friends, is the state of the arts in our society today.

This reminds me of when I was a young, hungry, college kid.  I would get the same calls from my school's employment office.  I remember one time, vividly, when I went to bid on one of these projects.  The client was a medium size business, selling what would turn out to be a mildly successful regional product.  I spent hours making sure the proposal was on point.  I rehearsed.  I priced the project.  Then I priced it again.  The moment came, and I made one of my very first bids.  I was cool, calm, collected.  I was engaging with the client, we chatted, went back and forth.  They absolutely loved me.  What they didn't love was my price.  It was a fair price indeed, but I priced it as a professional would.  They had just spoken with some other college kid that offered to shoot over 40 different studio sets, for $125.  I never took another job from that office.

That's the problem with the state of the arts today in our society.  For profit schools are churning out more and more kids every single semester(or trimester), taking all of their money, and undermining their industries.  Professionals, such as this newscaster, who could have stood up and spoken out against this, are openly undervaluing our industry.  In the world of photography, the product manufacturers now control the direction of the industry.  The major players now need to produce thousands of products, so they hire celebrities to make commercials, in order to sell more and more.  Now, everyone can pick up a $300 camera, and all of a sudden they feel empowered to go put up a facebook page.  The value of the actual art you produce is less than the value of the products you own.

If we, as an arts community, are to stop this kind of undervaluing once and for all, we must start taking a stand, together, and stand against things like this.  We all see the arts being diminished in our schools today, and we cannot count on our local and national politicians to change it.  Change MUST come from within.

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