Aug 28, 2015

What an Artist Owes

Earlier this week, Amanda Palmer posted an open letter on Medium, a response to a fan of hers who contacted her via per website to ask the following question:

"Are your patrons paying for new music, or are they paying for a new baby?"

The subject line of this message:

"Baby announcement right after joining Patreon?…Scam much?"

The full content of the message is in Amanda's Medium post. And I'll leave it to all of you to read through her (frankly astounding) reply. Seriously, Amanda Palmer shows more class, tact, and honesty than I think I've ever seen any artist give in response to such criticism as this person levied at her.

Aside from the blatant baby-shaming (because how dare a woman change her mind about wanting kids, right?), what really digs at me about the letter is the self-entitlement. We've seen it before. The behaviour which prompted Neil Gaiman to comment "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch." And we've seen other cases of artists accused of scamming readers by using money for something other than the creation of more art.

I brought this up before, and it's a question which has still not resulted in a satisfactory answer.

What does an artist owe?

Do people expect that the only thing an artist should be allowed to do with money earned from that art is to create more art? Or should they, like all businesspeople, be free to spend the profits of their work as they see fit?

Art is not a single, repeatable product. Every time an artists sets out to create something, it will be different than the things they have created before. If you no longer like what the artist creates, you're not obligated to expose yourself to it. You can listen to other music, read other books. You can even say "I prefer their older work" and yes, you can even tell the artist you no longer like their stuff.

But how dare anyone be so cruel as to think this is an appropriate way to address someone:

"You didn’t NEED to join Patreon, but you did anyway." (This fan has psychic powers that let them know how much money an artist needs to pursue certain projects.)

"you announced your pregnancy, after years of saying you didn’t want to be a mom" (Women are not allowed to change their minds about this, remember.)

"Chances are you’ll pass [hyper-sensitivity] on to your kid." (Because what a first-time mother really needs is someone seeding them with more fear that motherhood will be difficult, and then blaming them for it)

"did you do this on purpose?" (Women can't be trusted, naturally.)

"Is what you’re doing really fair to your fans?" (She should clearly have asked her fans' permission before being so inconsiderate as to have a child, and we all know no-one ever starts a family while also holding down a job.)

And this beauty:

"I need answers before I can feel comfortable giving you more of the money that I earned with my own sweat and tears." 

That's what gets me most of all. This person feels that because they've been giving money to an artist, that they have a say in her life choices. They feel that their money is more hard-earned than the artist's money. Because art's easy, right? Artists don't have bills to pay, food to buy, or private lives to lead. And no-one in any other field ever has to change their work routine and habits because of pregnancy.

While we're here, let's get really honest.

No-one asks a man if having children will affect his career.

No-one is emailing Neil Gaiman to ask him why he's been sharing photos of his pregnant wife instead of writing more books. Society says that women can either be successful and career-driven, or they can have children. They're not allowed to do both. And if they try, they'll be accused of being irresponsible and letting one suffer for the sake of the other.

If you like an artist, support them. If you stop liking them, stop supporting them. But don't send a passive-aggressive message full of threats, demands, and blame, and try to pass it off as concern.

It doesn't make you "Worried-but-Still-Devoted." It makes you an asshole. Don't be an asshole.

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