Should Art Be Free?

First, I promise you, this post is not a satire. 🙂

There’s a lot of grumbling going on around the internet due to SOPA: The “Stop Online Piracy Act.” On one side is a group of people who believe that online piracy of other artists’ copyrighted work has gotten way out of hand and needs to stop. On the other side is a group of people who believe that the stringent parameters of the bill will cripple the internet as well as actually hurt the spread of art. I’m still looking into the details, so I personally haven’t formed an opinion one way or the other.

But I think there’s even a bigger question that’s worth asking. Should art be free? And if it’s sold, is it no longer “pure” art?

As a video producer who make his living with my craft, my gut reaction to this question is “Art can be sold, and it can still be art.”  That’s the businessman side of me talking.

However, I have to admit, the artist side of me sometimes ponders this question. Here are a few facts I know:

  • In my nearly ten years in this business, the overwhelming majority of films I’ve had the most fun making were the ones where I was not paid.
  • There are many projects I have taken strictly because they help pay the bills. They don’t necessarily challenge me creatively nor do they excite me.
  • Because filmmaking has become my job, there are times when I hate it because it feels like something I have to do, rather than want to do.
  • There seems to be a growing movement of personal work by professional artists looking for an outlet for their creativity.

Below is an excerpt from a Francis Ford Coppola interview on

You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script. 

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

So what do you think? Is Francis right? Should art be free? Does it lose its purity when it’s mixed with commerce? Would it be better to go back and get that 9 to 5 so that filmmaking and photography can be fun again? Is SOPA trying to uphold an outdated system of copyright protection that hinders rather than helps the spread of art?

Here are a couple of very intriguing interviews that offer an interesting perspective.

Author Neil Gaiman has a change of heart regarding “piracy”.

This will probably be the only time you ever see me post a video of Michael Moore without criticizing him. But, despite my personal feelings about Mr. Moore, the comments he makes in this video are worth seriously considering.

5 thoughts on “Should Art Be Free?

  1. Interesting topic, and certainly one that I’m sure artists will talk about in every generation.

    I had an interesting conversation yesterday with an older filmmaker that recounted a concept that I think is very true. While telling me about his upcoming projects for 2012 he mentioned that one of his friends recently put a personal project on hold to pursue a 9-5 job as a DP on a well-known TV series. He said his friend didn’t even like the show, was not being challenged, and even further, was compromising his integrity of filmmaking for “cliche TV bullshit.” But it paid the bills and gave him notoriety. Rather than criticizing his friends decision, he said that as a filmmaker he had no problem with that type of work, so long as you end the day knowing the difference between the two.

    Like you said Ron, some of your favorite projects are ones you haven’t been paid to do, and you have done projects that don’t excite you in the least. I think that’s ok, so long as you know the difference between the two.

    1. Thanks for commenting Matt. Great story about the filmmaker. For me it’s easy to know the difference between the two. The trick is that achieving that balance. I’m hoping in 2012 to take some risks and chances so that more of what pays the bills also fulfills my spirit.

  2. Art costs money to produce and thus to justify the costs needs to be sold. The best art is that which finds a balance between passion & profit. To attach a financial value to art is a direct appreciation of it’s beauty & creativity.

    Let’s face it online piracy is rampant almost no one pays for music or movies anymore however money isn’t lost by an industry I’d say it’s spread to wider market, massive amounts of internet bandwidth, connection speeds, hard drives, media players all these owe their massive popularity to online piracy. There are millions of artists on the market today and it’s quite literally impossible to buy all their music unless you are filthy rich, the old way of doing things are dead, record companies, etc will have to come with better ways of generating profits.

  3. Samuel Clemens once said “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay.” I agree – to a point. Someone offering to pay for your art is a strong signal that you’ve invested enough practice in your art for it to be worth paying for.

    I firmly believe that art should NOT be free. Making art is hard work, and artists make things that other people can’t make.

    Expecting to enjoy music or paintings or photography or a good book without paying the person who made it is like going to an auto shop and expecting them to fix your car for free. It’s like going to your hair stylist and expecting to walk out with a great hairdo without paying for it. It’s like calling a plumber to fix your leaky toilet for zero dollars.

    Someone expecting me to make photographs for them for free, is like me asking them to to their work on my behalf for free. Would you go to your job and put in a hard day’s work if you didn’t get paid for it?

    If an artist puts in an eight hour day creating paintings, or music, or photographs, or writing a novel, or making a movie, isn’t she just as entitled to get paid for that work as the person who puts in an eight hour day assembling cars or driving a delivery truck or styling people’s hair?

    Frank Lloyd Wright once opined that “Art for art’s sake is a philosophy of the well fed.” Artists need to eat, too, and if we have to hold a full time job to pay the rent and put food on the table, we’re not spending that time doing what we’re really good at – and THAT impoverishes the whole society by severely limiting the artist’s output.

    1. It’s funny you mentioned Sam Clemens. My wife and I have been watching a documentary about ol’ Mr. Twain.

      I obviously agree with you about getting paid for your art. But I would have you consider this. For a lot of creatives who start a business with their art, they end up doing less and less art and more and more of running the business. I know I deal with that many times. So, let’s flip this paradigm on it’s head. What if you had a regular ol’ 9 to 5. At 5 you are completely off the clock. That gives you the rest of your time to do all you want, how you want, with your art. No clients telling you how to edit something. No jobs you take just for the $$$. It’s art for art’s sake. Your bread and butter is taken care of by the 9 to 5. Just something to think about.

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