I recently read an article on the economics of ancient Rome that suggested that, while the written arts, especially those that involved education or erudition, were highly valued, the visual and performance arts were not. The visual arts, especially, were regarded as the work of the lowly and demeaned, as almost all the arts we see from Rome, Pompeii, and Herculaneum, all of the frescoes and mosaics that have survived to this day, were made by slaves.
My great legacy to the world, a small bit of observability in web server configuration.
Skilled slaves, but slaves nonetheless. The visual arts could be bought and sold just as readily as a loaf of bread, and unlike bread, a good mosaic would last for decades.
This mentality is still at play. And I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon. The reason artists struggle is because a lot of people look at visual art and say, “I could do that. With enough time and study, I could do that.” Textbooks remind us time and again that the illustrative arts “can be learned by anyone,” that we could all learn to draw what we see, or even what we imagine, with just a few dozen hours to get all the basics down. You don’t find people paying for art much because there’s just so much of it, and only so many walls to hang it on.
Here’s the thing about computer programming: it’s exactly the same. Somehow, because it involves math (although really, most programmers only use arithmetic; I only recently started to use actual maths, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years), and a lot of people went through school and made the decision that they “didn’t have a head for math,” and so decided that “no matter how much time and study I give it, I couldn’t learn that.”
It’s not true. But as long as the majority of the population believes it to be true, and continues to be opposed to learning it, they’re going to keep paying computer programmers a lot more than they are artists.
Which is a shame. I rarely feel like I’ve contributed much great to the world, but I love art and artists and have a lot of paid-for art that, sadly, I haven’t yet had the time to mount and display. Artists consistently make me happy in ways coders only sometimes do.