A message for your favourite artist

I posted something deliberately provocative on Facebook the other day. It was a status message that read, more or less, as follows:

"When we illegally download our favourite artists' work from the web -- be it books, music, or movies -- this is the message we are sending them: 'I love your work, but it is worth zero rupees to me.'"

I was hoping for a certain kind of reaction and many of those who commented, did not disappoint me. One commenter even went to the extent of saying my views were facile.

I admit I was oversimplifying things. But my intention was to poke us all, myself included, into thinking about the kind of culture we have created around us. It is a culture that does not encourage people to get into the 'business' of culture, of doing creative work -- writing, making movies and music -- in exchange for money. Basically, to make a career out of creative pursuits.

Some say it is for the better, that art should have nothing to do with currency notes and bank credits. That is true. Art shouldn't.

But artists do.

Artists live in the very same world as everyone else does. They pay bills, worry about rent, have to allocate money every month for food, gas, and electricity just like everyone else. While art can come to us from a pristine and high place that speaks to the part of us that is otherworldly, artists -- the people who channel it for us -- are flesh and blood people who need roti, kapda and makaan.

So when an only-human artist -- someone who hopes to write the next big novel or the next new music superhit, steps into our mob-driven present, he sees clearly that it is not going to be easy and that he is going to have to take up a job on the side. His writing is not going to pay his bills and his songs are not going to buy him food. And if his line of work requires him to own additional equipment -- a camera or other digital device -- then he is even worse off.

I do not believe things are going to change however. It is going to remain difficult for creative people to make a living doing creative work. I just think it is insensitive of consumers to say convenient things like "art should be free" without considering the effort and time that someone at the other end of the creative process puts in at his or her own expense. Seth Godin once said that writers have no "right" to make money from their writing. He is right. But writers (and artists of other kinds) have the right to try and do so. Artists have the right to decide how much they are going to charge for their creative output. Our consumer culture, unfortunately, is not very accommodating towards such ambition.

I download movies and books illegally as well. And it would be dishonest of me to say that I didn't write this to provoke as well.