Do artists have Stockholm Syndrome?

Photo credit: Kristina Alexanderson (Flickr)

Photo credit: Kristina Alexanderson (Flickr)

I’m not making light of Stockholm Syndrome, but there is a symbolic parallel of how creatives keep returning to their oppressors — commercial galleries, dealers, auction houses, museums, universities, mainstream music companies, publishing houses, and so on. These are gatekeepers who perpetuate a feast-or-famine mentality. So many of us buy into it. Even those DIYers like me strive for an impressive resume, defined by the very people who maintain an art world that I feel so alienated from. So why do I (we) keep going back? No matter how far away we move in resistance, we still circle back. Maybe it’s because they ultimately have more power and reach than we do. Maybe it’s because we have been indoctrinated to think that it’s not until they say we are legit and valuable that we really are. Having a publishing house want your work is the ultimate approval, isn’t it? Getting a record deal with a mainstream label. Being the next poet laureate. Selling for six or seven figures at art auctions. Winning a Tony. These are high honors, aren’t they?

But maybe we are great no matter what, regardless of these Pavlovian rewards systems, rewards most of us will never receive, systems that need the “nobodies” in order to build an audience for the “somebodies.” Maybe what actually matters is how you did what you did. Or that you created something. Maybe you defined success on your own terms and work completely outside of the Establishment.

Or maybe you even figured out how to beat the Establishment at its own game and infiltrated it with your punk, DIY, way of being. Maybe you got there despite marginalization. But what does that say for the rest of us? Are we bastard children of the Establishment, not smart enough or brave enough or willing to take enough risks to do that? And are we, for some reason, unworthy of praise or recognition or money despite how gifted we are?

I somehow doubt that.

This world of the arts creates people who struggle to exist as who they are as human beings. That’s unacceptable. What do we do about it? How do we revolt?

We are seeking written or video submissions for our Artist Stories online library, a social justice project, and would love to hear from you.

2 responses to “Do artists have Stockholm Syndrome?

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