Let’s talk about money. And let me make it clear from the outset that I’d rather not. Let me take it one step further by making it equally clear that I’m not talking about, coming close to, or even thinking about stepping over the line into that most egregious realm known as greed. What I am talking about is adequate compensation for those who create stories and art and music and theater that truly lift our spirits in ways that defy all other avenues of income.
Now, the worlds of business and health care and education and law and numerous other fields are essential to our well-being. But to suggest that they lift our imaginations to levels that went previously untapped would be nothing short of outrageous. That comes through our interactions with the stringing of one word to another into sentences that tell stories that will change (or at least invite us to change) the way we think about people and places and times. When we stand back and gaze upon a painting or a piece of sculpture or other artistic medium and then move in closer, our minds make room for the exploration of new worlds. As we tap a foot, move to dance, or attempt to sing along, body and mind and soul are nourished. And if you’ve ever watched a live, dramatic performance on stage, I’m certain that you have visualized it more than once, long after the final act.
Consider, the Bible and “To Kill a Mockingbird,”two books that thousands continue to read with unbridled regularity. Or the contributions from masters such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Cezanne, Cassatt, Picasso, and Hopper. To even begin a discussion of the “best” musicians would be like deciding how to count the stars in the night sky — Miles Davis comes to mind, along with a timeless catalog of classic rock and roll, country, classical, and folk. Seeing more than a few Broadway plays only invites a desire to see a few more.
While the vast majority of us can name more than a few established authors and painters and musicians and performers we adore, how many of us can name creatives from our own state who write stories, sketch what their eyes see, or pick up a musical instrument and entertain? How many of us have attended a dramatic presentation from a local theater group? It would do us well to seek out and support these emerging creatives, for they have not yet reached a list proclaiming them among the “BEST” in their respective creative worlds. They have not yet reached the New York Times Bestseller list. They have not yet reached a showing of their art at a major gallery. And they have not yet reached a large stage set before tens of thousands of energized people.
When these levels have not yet been reached, these emerging artists are often asked to present their work with their only compensation being “exposure.” And that’s the moment that can discourage an emerging creative in a way that is incomprehensible to those who make their living by other means. The question then becomes, “Would you take a look at my home’s plumbing, my electrical panel, my real estate contract, my eyes and my teeth, and, while you’re at it, tutor my child who is having difficulty understanding algebra, and I’ll, in turn, give you a good recommendation. Money, you ask? Oh, how silly,” I say, as I walk away, not feeling the sting from one sharp spear in my back.
This scenario is not too far from what many emerging creatives encounter over and over again. And yet, it repeats itself like a needle skipping on a record, never getting anywhere. Creatives are not marketing professionals. They are not salesmen. As a matter of fact, they are not very good at tooting their own horns. They are, however, very good at using the gifts they’ve been given to uplift the masses and bring hope and beauty, reflection and inspiration. They are the gods among us, who sift through life’s unpleasantries to find meaning.
It’s important to note that emerging creatives living in large metropolitan areas might have greater access to a number of venues that are not afforded creatives throughout rural America. That, in itself, presents an additional set of challenges. And yet, small towns all across this country are home to local authors reading at schools and libraries and fairs and festivals. The opportunities may not be great in number, but they are available. The same can be said for musicians and artists and dramatic performers. Town squares are a most welcoming venue. Still, exposure alone is not enough. There must be, even with limited financial resources, a way to compensate these creatives in ways that speak loudly to the years dedicated to their art and puts a monetary value on their work. It’s imperative that we identify those ways, to ensure the continuation of these artistic passions.
If you question the importance of this vital compensation, imagine a world void of its treasures. It will become crystal clear that the absence of creative endeavors is completely unacceptable in a world that depends so very much on its gifts.
Emerging creatives need quite a bit more than exposure. They need welcoming avenues to present their work, with the promise of a monetary reward at the end for a job well done. To say that we write and sketch and play with musical notes and bring just the right amount of drama to a stage production simply because it is our passion and our passion alone, is more than a bit shallow. It’s disrespectful. Yes, we do what we do not only because we truly love it, but also because it chose us as much as we chose it.
So the next time you are on the verge of suggesting that creative exposure is enough, try to keep those words to yourself. Try instead to read, listen, applaud, and spread the richness of your experience with others, while also generously compensating emerging creatives with something more than a bit of exposure; that something will truly help them move forward to one day securing a spot on one of those “BEST” lists. Only then can you say, with complete conviction, “I support emerging creatives.”
Kathleen M. Jacobs is an emerging creative. She lives in Charleston, WV, and has been nominated for Best Author of WV for 2022, by WV Living Magazine.