Something extraordinary has happened in the digital age. Alongside the fact that our culture and art is no longer almost solely governed by gatekeepers — we are able to post and sell and share without someone having to approve it — we are also consuming each other’s work at rapid rates. Instead of writers competing for a few square inches in a newspaper, we can create on an infinite stream of pixels.
Of course, this is by and large an incredible thing, and undoubtedly a feat for humankind. But the pace and frequency with which we are able to consume content makes us take its creators for granted. It makes us feel entitled.
This is never as apparent as when people are apprehensive or judgmental about creatives who monetize their work. There’s still this super archaic idea that selling your work — or making a living from it — somehow lessens its quality and authenticity.
The truth is that it is a gift to get to do something you like, that maybe helps or inspires others, and make a living from it. It is even more incredible if you’re able to be paid well. If you have a problem with the way an artist, author or creator does that — and, for the record, every popular artist, author and creator does in some way — you should not be consuming their work for free. You should not be following them, reading them, watching them and learning from them without having to give them anything in exchange, especially not if you’re going to be mad about the fact that they’re making money somehow.
Do we ever turn to a friend at a job that he or she really doesn’t like — but sticks with because they need to pay their bills — and say: You’ve totally sold out? Do we say that to people who have high-earning positions in traditional fields? Of course we don’t, because we respect creative fields the least, and are somehow more inclined to understand why people stay at jobs they don’t like to survive than those who go after work they love in order to thrive.
If you aren’t a fan of advertising, sponsored content or selling your work to clients, publishers or buyers, then don’t do it. But don’t chastise people who can, and do.
Earning money from something does not extract it of its meaning, it adds to it. Monetizing your art doesn’t reduce its quality, it improves it. When your work is also your job, you care about it more, you become more motivated, you devote your life to it, and you become better at than you ever would have had you saved it for a hobby you dabble in now and again.
The sticky, sad truth is that the people who often criticize those making a great living from their art are never the ones who are also doing the same. You’re never going to hear a successful artist look down upon marrying your business and your art. These judgments are only ever going to come from people who wish they could do what they love and be paid handsomely for it.
So if you’re someone who can’t respect the fact that artists deserve to live well and be compensated for what they create, don’t consume it. If you aren’t going to pay for it, and presume that nobody else should, you are not in any way entitled to be looking at it in the first place.