We like to think that the tensions between profit and artistic production are issues of the modern age. But consider this conversation from about 2400 years ago:
When a potter becomes rich, will he, think you, any longer take the same pains with his art?
He will grow more and more indolent and careless?
And the result will be that he becomes a worse potter?
Yes; he greatly deteriorates.
But, on the other hand, if he has no money, and cannot provide himself with tools or instruments, he will not work equally well himself, nor will he teach his sons or apprentices to work equally well.
Then, under the influence either of poverty or of wealth, workmen and their work are equally liable to degenerate?
That is evident.
This, of course, is from Plato’s Republic, a tiny little treatise on purpose, poetry, philosophy, and civic duty. To Plato’s characters, the corruptive power of wealth and comfort on artistic focus and quality were given. To be great, an artist needed just enough resources to produce the work, but not enough resources to live well.
It’s as if Plato were sketching out the nonprofit arts sector (minus most of the overhead) — a magical place where the means of production could be secured apart from the marketplace…but generally not enough to pay the artist beyond their immediate needs.
There’s lots to argue about in the assumption. More to come on that. But in the meanwhile, it’s useful to recognize that the tensions we believe to be connected to the non-profit and commercial art world are just a bit deeper, and quite a bit older, than the tax laws upon which that system is built.