Eamonn Kelly; The Fine Art Of Monetising Art


From top: Comedian and broadcaster Tommy Tiernan; Eamonn Kelly

One of the tragic things about arts and creativity is that these activities have been monetised. Not in real terms of course, but in the expectation that they should earn profit, otherwise they are deemed “useless”.

Monetising creative activity is regarded as one of the major problems of creativity, particularly for those individuals who feel naturally inclined to create anyway, no matter what the circumstances. The received wisdom is that you shouldn’t do anything until such time as you have a deal in place. Then, the money assured, you can go to work.

But those who feel driven to create know that not practising leads to not creating. Creativity is not a tap that you can turn on and off in response to the vagaries of the economic system.

And that right there is the problem, not just for creatives, but for that aspect of humanity that is nurtured by creative works; which is essentially, everyone. Because creative works are a food of sorts. But in a system focused on the bottom line above all else, the very act of creativity becomes devalued to the point of inactivity by those who might otherwise practise a creative discipline.

Such people may eventually surrender to the cultural wisdom of getting a “real” job, ending up working in some oligarch’s factory where all respect for workers has been stripped away in the interests of profit. Places where the souls of creatives tend to wither and die.

Welfare Arts Grant

I happened to catch Tommy Tiernan’s show on RTÉ the other night. It’s not something I would normally watch, since I happen to know him personally, but I catch parts of it now and again. He was talking to Andrea Corr about the driven aspect of creativity.

He told her, a little boastfully I thought, that after he had earned his money and had plenty in the bank, that he still felt the urge to gig. He seemed puzzled by this outcome, endearingly failing to realize that he has just inadvertently admitted that he was only ever in it for the money.

His is an unusual story of creativity monetised. All the stars aligned and somehow made him an earner. The last time I caught the show he was telling a guest how he used to hang out on the “dole” in Galway doing nothing. I could see by the way he presented this that it was some kind of bootstraps legend he had created for himself.

The guest, horse-trainer Ted Walsh, said that Tiernan’s success was a great advertisement for the dole, but that under normal circumstances he would regard someone hanging out on he dole as a “a waster”.

Annoyingly, Tiernan’s “dole” narrative isn’t even true. Or is only partly true. I was an advocate for basic income in the 1980s, and I was one of the people in Galway who deliberately regarded the welfare payment as an arts grant. Tiernan is in fact a great advertisement for a basic income, particularly in the manner in which such payment might facilitate arts practise and production, as it accidently did in Galway and elsewhere in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Back then, when you worked part time on a CE scheme you could earn what you liked elsewhere. I and others used to do this and put our time into producing shows; in my case lunchtime theatre and late-night comedies.

Tiernan was part of this scene, which was absolutely entrepreneurial in spirit. Many of the people on the scene later went working in TG4 and in the Irish film industry, such as it is. Far from sitting around on the “dole” eating spuds, as Tiernan now presents it; he, like the rest of us, was gigging and learning his trade. He was appearing in theatre and comedy productions, including shows I produced, and even back then was getting regular RTÉ gigs in children’s television.

He is the product of what was a thriving arts scene in Galway, so it is disappointing to see him now airbrush out the scene that served him so well and replace it with a mean-minded, even neo-liberal “dole” origin story that makes it look like he monetised his art through sheer individual will. It is also a missed opportunity to make a convincing argument for a basic income, since, as Ted Walsh observed, he is a great advertisement for such a payment.

Pareto Distribution

For anyone who manages to monetise an arts practise in a capitalist society, there are a number of factors that need to align for this to happen. Jordan Peterson goes into this in a YouTube clip “The Scary Truth About Success and Wealth Distribution”, where he looks at the Pareto Distribution curve and Price’s Law to describe the factors that go into achieving a success, and how success then begets success.

The upshot is that in a capitalist system the laws of distribution and chance combine to have the effect of all activity eventually being concentrated in one place. It’s a really interesting observation which makes even more problematic the need for social equality and income redistribution, since there appear to be natural laws that have the effect of naturally creating distribution imbalances and wealth concentrations over time.

But that’s getting away from the point of creativity, though such an observation is itself creative. Rather than trying to figure out how to monetize the arts by the rules of a distorted system that eventually and inevitably pulls all profits to one source, and leaves creative activities like a lottery, with very few winners, the question becomes: how do you go about nurturing creative activity?

The first step has to be in recognizing that creative works, both the creation and receipt of them, are as vital to human existence as food and water. The actor Ethan Hawke gives a good Ted Talk on this in “Give Yourself Permission To Be Creative”.

The next step has to be to decide how to ensure maximum productivity in the creative sector. Because monetizing an arts practice in the present economic paradigm, even before the pandemic, was always a long shot, with very few real economic winners.

The answer to the problem really is two-fold: social housing and basic income, allowing for those who feel so inclined to give their relatively limited resources to creative activities.

There is also a profound change of attitude towards the arts required here, seeing these “assists” not as handouts but as investments, much as investment in farming is justified on the basis of food production. Until these mind changes are achieved, the waste of talent will continue, at a time when, as the autistic savant Temple Grandin observed in her Ted Talk “The World Needs All Kinds Of Minds”: we need all kinds of different problem-solving minds, not just bottom-line economic pragmatists.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

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18 thoughts on “Eamonn Kelly; The Fine Art Of Monetising Art

    1. Gavin

      How so, there ae vald poins in the article? Sure the bits laong these lines are silly..
      “Such people may eventually surrender to the cultural wisdom of getting a “real” job, ending up working in some oligarch’s factory where all respect for workers has been stripped away in the interests of profit. Places where the souls of creatives tend to wither and die.”

      This is valid as are other points..

      He is the product of what was a thriving arts scene in Galway, so it is disappointing to see him now airbrush out the scene that served him so well and replace it with a mean-minded, even neo-liberal “dole” origin story that makes it look like he monetised his art through sheer individual will.

      1. ( ̄_, ̄ ) AKA Frilly Keane

        Yet he’s from Meath

        Amway; There is a lot to be said about a basic income for wholetime creatives and artists,
        just like a basic universal income. We’ve done it on BS.tv several times, Jimmy is particularly engaged in it

        Unfortunately, the investment in the Arts here, even though it’s shockingly biased and corrupt,
        along with generous Tax Relief and exemptions, which have the wee wee well and truly taken out of them as it is.
        plus the influence of the National Broadcaster on careers, and profiles, likewise the State’s various Film/ Screen / Production and Broadcasting State Squangos.
        then add in all the grants and top ups and gigs for the same circles of pals and lovvies year in year out from other Govt Departments, Local Authorities, Lotto etc
        and then multiply by the millions and millions and millions allocated annually
        from Orchestras to Dance Groups to Gallaries to Theatres to Band Projects

        Supporting Artists & Creatives in a fixed statutory scheme isn’t going to get the cooperative support and respect it deserves.

        1. ce

          Yep – a basic income scheme specifically for the ‘arts’ just adds another layer to the nonsense.
          Ultimately who defines the arts… (Also, just a little side rant, the word ‘creatives’ jebus that one is awful, what kind of EY fever dream did that emerge from! Also, also, there is a difference between creativity and art… we can argue about that some other time)

          If the pandemic has thought us anything it’s that many people work incredibly hard in all manner of jobs without contributing a massive amount to the ‘economy’. And so, a basic income scheme must be designed for all or it won’t be accepted/work…. that may involved scrapping a lot of current funding bodies/quangos etc., and not just the art ones. It gets my vote!

      2. EK

        Oh for crying out loud, it’s just a bit of writing, Gavin, it’s not a policy document. Get a life, will ye? EK

  1. Johnny

    Being A Bohemian Starving Artist Gets Old Fast…..

    “Lubell’s tome gathers together images of the homes of 250 of history’s most highly regarded artists, offering the chance to take a peek into the grand black-and-white tiled grand room of Peter Paul Rubens, peruse the bookshelves of Victor Hugo, or drink in the delightfully whimsical hand-painted walls of Jean Cocteau.“

  2. Gabby

    Writing Creativity in Ireland is especially associated with poetry, stories, novels and play scripts. Bord Failte-Failte Ireland has intensified the Irish literary image as a way to get the tourists excited. Go on a literary pub crawl (sic) and you might bump into a living equivalent of O’Casey, Joyce, Flann O’Brien or Kavanagh. Other forms of creativity don’t feature in the tourism flimflam – new architecture, travel writing, social commentry or meditative ponderings of a religious or philosophical nature. Tourists won’t bump into pub philosophers during their Irish holidays. The joke about a German querying attitudes to 1960s existentialism still stands. He said: Existentialismus: haben Sie Angst? To which the Irishman replied: Wir haben keine Angst und keine Ahnung. Capitalism is not the main constraint to literary and artistic creativity. The carefree social attitude to culture and intellect is.

  3. johnny

    …blind drunk culchies throwing darts at a numbered board,would result in better outcomes,irelands projections business model is woeful,hope the nurses have a better crystal ball.

    Oh my god
    -Experts had expected property values to decline in 2020 in the face of mass unemployment and a hiatus in economic activity brought about by the pandemic.
    -Davy Stockbrokers led the charge, predicting the coronavirus crisis would trigger a 20 per cent fall in house prices last year
    -KBC Bank Ireland forecast a 12 per cent decline, deepening to 20 per cent in the event of a second wave of infections and/or a more protracted exit from lockdown, both of which we’ve had or are having
    -The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) talked of a 12 per cent fall in prices. Disposable income drives demand and as long as that is subdued it would affect demand for properties, it said.

    -annual asking price inflation nationally rose 6.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year and 4.8 per cent in Dublin.

    dead people everywhere,snivelling idots on here with body counts,meanwhile in real life.


    -A derelict house on a third of an acre in Rosslare, Co Wexford with a guide price of €175,000, sold at auction recently for €531,000 after 28 bidders, making 211 bids, fought a price war to secure the property.


  4. Rob_G

    “I think my writing is great, and you should all be happy to subsidise me in doing it indefinitely” – strange post.

  5. Fergalito

    I think you’re stretching what Tiernan said to facilitate the point you are trying to make but I guess an article or piece of writing has to capture the reader’s attention which may have been the purpose.

    He didn’t airbrush anything, he simply mentioned that as an artist he was compelled to continue gigging despite the fact that money was no longer an issue. Couldn’t one infer also that it makes sense of the adage “if you do something you love you’ll never work a day in your life” or words to that effect?

    In the main he was interviewing Andrea Corr and unlike a lot of interviewers didn’t take an opportunity to soapbox. I I like Tiernan, he’s a very good interviewer and most of the shows have been viewing time, well spent.

  6. Andy

    What waffle!
    Looks like you had this idea/brain spew whatever ready to go and jumped on a handy bandwagon. #Hashtag, #trending etc. etc.

  7. Andrew

    Who defines who a ‘creative'(who came up with this) is? I don’t think Andrea Corr is creative or Tommy Tiernan for that matter. Is Nicky Byrne a creative? What about Brendan O’Carroll or Daniel O’Donnell? Are all of these people creatives?
    Should they be subsidised by the taxes of people working in factories, stacking shelves or caring for the sick by who are not deemed creative?
    The sense of entitlement is extraordinary.

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