Saturday, August 25, 2012

David Sipress in The New Yorker

If Reuters financial writer Felix Salmon can engage in art criticism I feel qualified to comment on a major but under-reported trend contributing to our lackluster economy: NO ONE WANTS TO PAY FOR LABOR. Corporate profits are at their highest, wages are at their lowest. If we can get away with it, we want people to work for next to nothing, or for free. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe if you work, if you're making a contribution to another person’s income, you should be paid commensurately.

I’ve read endless articles about how Walmart doesn’t pay a living wage, forcing employees to apply for food stamps, with universities following suit in their use of adjuncts. A friend in England works in an America designer outlet store that brings in over £400,000 a week (that’s $600,000 to you and me) where the ten or so employees make just over minimum wage. Et cetera, et cetera. What about the art world?

Now that it’s almost fall, my in-box is littered with “opportunities” for people with “excellent writing and editing skills” who are proficient in basic HTML, Excel, Quickbooks and PhotoShop to work as interns without compensation—for artists, bloggers, and galleries who are presumably profiting (or intending to profit) from their enterprises.

Now I’m a really interesting person with lots of life experience; a younger person could learn a lot just by being around me and participating in what I do—perhaps more than they could learn in school.  There’s a ton of work that needs to be done here that someone else could do and I, like many artists, am not exactly rolling in dough. Nevertheless, if someone’s going to put in hours toward my wellbeing, doing what I tell them to do, I feel honor-bound to pay them—especially if it’s QuickBooks, for god’s sake.

Since I doubt that my colleagues advertising for interns are in the Tea Party camp, I'm wondering how being a socially compassionate liberal fits with taking advantage of a climate that presumes people should work for free. Just wondering.


Micros said...

How true.

Many fine statements here, however the main focus must rely on greed.


In the sweat shops in India, Bangladesh, China. . . 20 cents a day to feed yourself and family, while the corporate bosses live "up on the hill" looking down at the misery devouring a population that they have no contact with. . . why should they soil their hands.

"Looking for bright motivated people who have determination and a desire to help our company exceed expectations in every quarter. You must know, CS5, HTML, AVID, C++, and a host of other software. Oh, and by the way, your wages will just squeak over minimum wage. But don't be sad, we will always give you a pat on the back, because we are an Equal Opportunity Based on Greed Employer."


Anna Loretta said...

I could not agree with you more, Carol. When I was in school, I did assistantships. I did one assistantship with an internationally renowned artist on an installation at the Corcoran. I was paid a small wage, I got 4 college credits, and was served delicious lunches daily by said artist's lovely European wife, who was herself a font of cultural knowledge.
I then did a summer at Peter's Valley craft center where in exchange for my labor as a studio assistant I worked with several internationally prominent artists, learned new skills and was given food and lodging and studio space in addition to access to all the workshops.
Only students should work assistantships or internships, there should always be college credit and/or other tangible benefits involved, and the "intern" should not be supplying the skill set!