Post Academic


Has the Starving Artist Just Died?

The idea of artists getting involved in business has become a theme as of late. The New York Times just did a story on artists who are taking classes on how to profit from their work. In a recent Rolling Stone, David Byrne–the gold-standard example of a well-fed artist who has not compromised his vision–said:

The romantic notion that musicians can’t deal with the business aspect of things, or can’t be interested in anything outside their music–that has disappeared, thank God. When I was starting out, you were supposed to be stupid! Young musicians that I’ve worked with–St. Vincent, Dirty Projectors, the National–they are throwing away that whole lackadaisical attitude. … These musicians are more engaged in the world around them, and they are going to survive.

Artists are often admonished within their communities to avoid selling out, at all costs (pardon the pun). So are academics in the humanities, who get by on grad stipends and low-paid adjunct gigs until they reach the holy grail of tenure. But starving isn’t glamorous for very long, unless you have a trust fund. The only way to share your ideas with the masses is to keep yourself fed, which is why you need to keep an eye on your money.

If artists are taking business classes and David Byrne is praising the new generation for rocking a balance sheet, then isn’t it time for academics to get more serious about being paid properly? Forming unions and organizing is only the first step. Anyone going into academia must make sure they can survive on what they are paid, and they must fight hard for the jobs they still have. It could be said that older generations didn’t fight hard enough to justify what they do and hire when they had the money, but that time might be over.

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