The Worth of Artists Questioned During Covid-19 Crisis?

A good friend of mine, a high level Artist Manager, made a call on his social media feed that artists should stop giving their performances for free online (as many at all levels of our art form are doing) because it devalues our craft. Several artists, his clients among them, naturally were quick to concur and write in support. I am not in disagreement with my good friend and colleague that artists need to be valued more and indeed the public has learned over many decades to take our work for granted or as a luxury that they can easily do without. Yet this crisis shows us how important our work is to society at large.

Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and the rest are not enough. As a binge watcher myself, I have access to several streaming services and I get bored. Music, theater, dance offer something different. Live performances even those that are recorded have a different feel to them. Even the homemade videos of less than top professionals online get quite a bit of attention, sometimes more than free streaming of opera performances delivered by top opera companies. There is a lot to learn from this phenomenon. This worldwide crisis teaches us a lot about people. They are eager to promote those they know as well as unrefined videos and less interested in pre-canned, airbrushed videos with sound equalization that do not give a faithful representation of the opera singers in them.

I believe my friend, the artist manager, misses the point when he suggests singers should stop offering their art for free at this moment. The Artist’s instinct is to be present when the clouds gather. The Actor speaks when others are too grieved to speak. The Singer sings when the others are in tears. The Poet turns a verse when the sufferer cannot find the adequate words. The Dancer makes the movement that releases the sorrow when the one who hurts can only keen.

This is our time as Artists as it always has been! We bring solace in the dark times!

To withdraw right now when we are needed the most, in the name of money, would sear in the public’s mind that artists are not necessary, for they will find some means of coping should we go silent.

In the end it would only firm up the misguided opinion that culture is a luxury! And we artists would lose an argument we need to forcefully make when this crisis has passed.

I am making my friend and colleague’s point here! He is not incorrect but in his zeal to take good care of his artists who are suffering right now, I think he allowed the fear of this moment to guide his otherwise clear-mindedness.

My friend is correct but this is not the time to be stingy!

The artist’s instinct rules the moment! We open our hearts and our souls and we give. Despite the fear that we will not be able to pay the rent.

But in balance, I must say the following: the artists are taken for granted until we are needed. People will often ask us to sing at a party just because they wish to be entertained but put no value to our gifts.

If we are expected to rise to the occasion and lift up our society, our society must lift us up and makes sure that we have the means to pay the rent and take care of our families and be able to retire without fear when the time comes.

A civilized society values its culture and those who create that culture. At the end of the day, what is left of our societies, our social legacy is the combined work of artists–Musicians, painters, dancers, architects, writers and poets, film-makers, actors, fashion and costume designers, make-up artists, and the scientists who give us the needed research to dig deeper into the arts.

While our doctors and nurses (several in my family) and food workers and trash collectors, and engineers etc are unsung heroes who we recognize during this crisis. The artists are also ESSENTIAL!

It is easier to see the people who take care of our physical needs. But we also have a psyche and that is the purview of the Artists!

The society that forgets its soul has already died. It just doesn’t know it yet!

© 16 April 2020

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