Winemakers know that the best vintages occur in seasons in which the rainfall is less than what the grapvine might like. Too much moisture, and the plant's energy goes into the leaves instead of the fruit, too little and of course the plant can't survive. Hence the winemaker will say that the vine must suffer in order to produce a great crop.
It seems that an assumption perists that the creative artist is like the grapevine, that his best work will only be produced under conditions of relative stress, by which this naive point of view usually means financial stress. This perception is a conceit cultivated by dozy business majors forced to take Art History 101 and over-romanticizing an image of the proverbial struggling artist. While it's true that the emotional catalysts which drive individual creators to their work are often shaped by conflict or pain or sorrow, I think it's fair to say that most who dare to mine these internal resources will tell you that their potency is generally unaffected by money but that their latent potential to produce works which others can appreicate is very much about money. It may seem a subtle distinction, but perhaps that's why the matter is so often overlooked by those who say that copyright no longer serves as an incentive. W. Somerset Maughm in Of Human Bondage writes, "Money is like a sixth sense, without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five." This is instructive as to how I believe most working artists relate to money -- as a means, not an end.
In fact, this is how most people relate to money, isn't it? Very few of us have the opportunity to pile up wealth. Instead, most of us work to keep lubricating the machine of our lives, hoping rationally not for millions, but for equilibrium -- a place between struggling and wealth where the stress of survival is relieved enough to allow more time for the purpose of living. Most working artists are no different except that their purpose is to create. If a parent ever thinks to herself, "If I had less day-to-day pressure, I could give my child more focused, more positive attention," that common emotion very closely approximates how the artist relates to his creative progeny in conditions of financial strain. What the artist craves most is time.
Opponents of copyright like to say that art existed before copyright, and this is technically true and functionally irrelevant. Copyright is not the reason the artist creates, and it by no means guarantees him a career any more than the right to pursue happiness guarantees happiness. But we could say that happiness existed before 1776. So, why is the right to seek this state of being that has no universal definition codified into American law and culture? Whatever your individual answer may be, you would be on the road to understanding the relationship between the artist and money as well as the role of copyright as incentive.
Artists produce unusual things and for reasons as varied and unpredictable as quantum physics. That's why poetry gives us both Byron and Bukowski. Artists are like grapevines in the sense that they produce something we enjoy, and occasionally they yield something extraordinary; but unlike grapevines, no one can say with any accuracy how much or how little the artist should thirst financially in order to do great work.
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