Once, on Małgorzata Gutowska-Adamczyk’s blog, I read a post entitled: “Is being an artist a profession?”. Now two pieces of information, which I came across in the press, reminded me of it. The first one was about the closure of museums for one day as a part of artists’ protest against lack of any national insurance, and the second one was about the salaries of the Ministry of Culture officials (having national insurance), which reach 7,000 PLN, a trifle really.
The author of the book “Cukiernia pod Amorem” comes to the conclusion that creating art can be only a passion unless it appeals to taste of a big mass audience. Then, one can support oneself out of it. If not, an artist should decide on a different profession or come to terms with the fact that one is going to live from hand to mouth, because it is “a priori a part of our fate”. For a real artist, a creative act should be enough.
Presenting such concepts at the beginning of the 21st century in a European country is rather surprising. It is because of the fact that in this part of the world quite long time ago people reached the conclusion that the development of culture and art contributes to the development of society, what is more, not necessarily of this culture which the majority of this society wants to consume. For this reason, broadly speaking, it is worth supporting artists if they don’t manage on their own on the free market. However, as a Liberal and a member of this minority of people who stick to their opinions not only on Sundays, I am inclined to totally agree with the demand that an artist should get by on his own. And I am writing it as an author who can’t earn his living from his artistic work. The market decides. If you can’t sell your work, or by definition it is not for sale, at first earn some money for your dinners and bills at McDonald’s. I accept it. But if there is this free market and capitalism, it should be for everyone. Then, it can’t be like this that an artist is to pay for an early generous pension of a police officer and a miner, salaries of the Ministry of Culture officials, subsidies for farmers and the Catholic Church. And when one works his fingers to the bone doing overtime in order to have enough money for indispensable expenses and others, nobody forbids him to do some painting or write a book at night. And if he doesn’t feel up to doing it or doesn’t want to, it means that he is not a real artist. By the way, such a perception of an artist being a person who will always grit his teeth and fulfill himself creating art in spite of everything doesn’t take into consideration these sensitive plants who need greenhouse conditions and simply don’t manage. Talent doesn’t necessarily go in a pair with resistance or perseverance.
The market model doesn’t exclude, but just the opposite, it demands the country to create such conditions so as the participants of the market have equal rights and chances, the assurance of fair rules of the game. We are talking now about an artist who earns little and irregularly, he doesn’t have enough for his own needs, he prefers to cut down on them rather than earn extra money in McDonald’s. He doesn’t ask the government for help, because he accepts the free market. However, the government doesn’t accept it and says: “Darling, pay us 1,000 PLN a month, because we have to have money to cover the hole in the budget of the Agricultural Social Insurance Fund (KRUS*) and the National Health System (ZUS**). No matter if you earn anything at all. You do not have any other sources of income if you don’t earn? And what is more, you dare to say that in the work of an artist it is normal that sometimes you don’t earn money? OK, forget about health and retirement insurance.” The country doesn’t have to support artists, but it doesn’t have the right to throw them away to the margin of the society, and it does it right now. And the protest during which museums were closed concerned this issue.
It is not a problem if we accept the free market model or this one with the patronage of the country. Every model has its advantages and disadvantages, each can function. The problem is the fact that in Poland we have a protective model, which is declared, and artists are told to act on the free market. We say that culture is important for the nation and that it is a showpiece of Poland in the world, but these are empty slogans, because the country supports sportsmen. There is no money for scholarships for artists, but there is for the salaries of the Ministry of Culture officials. 7,000 PLN each. There are over 300 employees. If these 300 people were deprived of 1,000 PLN a month and this money was given as scholarships for 300 artists, officials still would have even more than they need, and 300 artists could limit themselves to a part-time job in McDonald’s and for the remaining 4 hours they could paint, write and compose. I dare to say that Polish culture would come off better of it rather than when the artists would fry hamburgers for all 8 hours. But if the country makes them fry these hamburgers, why artists-hobbyists are to maintain the Ministry of Culture employees? If we accept the market model, if artists are to worry about themselves, what raison d’être this department has? None. And when it does not exist anymore, there will be a little more money in the pockets of artists-taxpayers and they will be able to dedicate more time to working on achieving success on the free market.
Translation: Agnieszka Łysanowicz
*Polish: Kasa Rolniczego Ubezpieczenia Społecznego
**Polish: Zakład Ubezpieczeń Społecznych