BUY NINE, GET SIX DESTROYED FOR FREE

17 Jul

A PARABLE FOR ARTISTS

The early Christian writer Lactantius– who advised the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I– told the story of how the Roman king Tarquinius Priscus acquired the Sibylline books which were kept in Rome’s Capitoline temple for consultation, guidance and divination in times of trouble. Although Priscus bought them, they were eventually considered priceless and remained in the temple for many centuries until they and the temple were destroyed by fire in 83 BC.

The Sibylline books took their name from their keeper, the Cumaean Sibyl, high priestess of the Apollonian Oracle at Cumae near modern day Naples. At some point between 616 and 579 BC, she made Priscus an offer he initially thought he could refuse:

They say that Amalthea, the Sibyl from Cumae, brought nine books to the king Tarquinius Priscus, and asked 300 gold pieces for them. The king refused, saying it was far too much, and derided the woman, saying she was mad. So in the sight of the king, she burnt three of the books, and demanded the same price for the remaining six. Tarquinius thought her even madder. When she burnt three more, but persisted in demanding the same price, the king was thrown into turmoil and bought the remaining books for the original price.

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In recent years some people have occasionally mooted the idea of artists going on strike to drive home how much local, national, international and art world economies rely upon the work that creative people do, much of it– as we all know– woefully underpaid and unappreciated, taken for granted, or not paid at all. I have no idea how an artist strike would work in practice, or what artists comprehensively withdrawing their labour would actually entail; I don’t think anybody does because it’s pretty much a cloud cuckoo land proposition. We already have a huge cohort of scab artists who’ll undercut and undermine colleagues who refuse to work for low or no pay. The artistic and creative industries rely upon this fact to a very large extent, actually, hence the constant issuing forth from corporate offices of so-called opportunities that are “viral”, “get your work in front of industry leaders” or “great exposure” but also PURELY BY COINCIDENCE OBVIOUSLY would cost them thousands if they paid anybody to do them properly.

Even so, I do think it’s worth artists maintaining an inner Sibyl who simply won’t negotiate or be bullied when it comes to the value of what she does and how much value it brings to other people. Be the prophetess who would rather burn her work and be thought mad than give it away.

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One Response to “BUY NINE, GET SIX DESTROYED FOR FREE”

  1. Alistair 22/07/2015 at 3:29 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

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