Is your integrity tied to your job?

There’s a thread in the Pit about art and design work, wherein Evil Captor has this to say:

Good point. Anyway, it made me think about a scene from one of Ruth Rendell’s novels.

Guy, the main character, has as one of several business holdings a “factory” that mass-produces schlock art. He gets photos of corny subjects, like kittens playing and a little boy in tears because his train broke, has them blown up to portrait size, and hires artists, usually art-school graduates, to go over them with oil paints. Then they’re sold, Kincaide-style.

Tessa, the mother of Guy’s then-girlfriend, is aghast at the concept. She calls herself an artist because she has a studio in her house, and she says that Guy should be ashamed of himself, and, moreover, so should the artists he has working for him. Why? he asks. He’s not running a sweatshop; they get paid well over minimum wage. Doesn’t matter, Tessa insists. No true artist would stoop to producing schlock. Why did they go to art school? Guy replies that his workers are still doing their own art; working for him doesn’t stop them from working independently after hours. But there’s less of a market for incomprehensible abstract muck than there is for kittens-in-a-basket. Tessa’s last word is that his workers would be better off selling their original art off a blanket at King’s Cross station.

The thing is, though, I can see Guy’s point better than I can see Tessa’s. What Guy doesn’t point out, because he’s talking to his SO’s mom and wants to avoid a scene, is that Tessa went from her wealthy parents’ house to her wealthy husband’s house to another wealthy husband’s house, so what does she know about how low some people will go to make rent? Plus, canvases and art supplies aren’t free. McD’s might pay the rent, but not leave much for materials, and selling off a blanket would be even less likely to offset the cost of supplies, plus time spent (I bet Tessa never factored that in). And if they’re really shrewd, they can save up and spend six months or a year not working on anything but their own art.

So what do y’all think? Would you, for instance, work for the Thomas Kincaide company, if it was a way to finance your own art? Or could you not bear to have anything to do with them at all?

Bertold Brecht: “Grub first, then ethics.”

Speaking as someone who’s stood in front of a camera and sumo wrestled with a bunch of guys in tank tops and cowboy hats, you do what you need to pay the rent and feed your family.

I have to admit, I’m a starving scientist because I’ve been too proud to drop out of academia and work for a private company. Many of my colleagues are like that too. But I just got my next grant so no sweat.

I’m retired, so I guess that means my integrity is, too. I’m cool with that. It’s a load off my conscience. You know, the more I think about that, the more I like it. Yeeaaahhhh! :cool:

I’ve left a good position before because I felt we weren’t being up front with our clients. I’d do it again, although I do so much pre-checking into a prospective employer’s background now that it’ll probably never again be necessary.

I would sooner over-paint blown up photos of kittens in wicker baby carriages than work for the particular “Artist” mentioned in the OP.

People buy the kittens because they like the kittens. Kincaid markets his “art” as an investment which will appreciate, which I believe is utter crap.

My artistic integrity isn’t compromised by churning out images I hate. I probably couldn’t do it for very long but I wouldn’t fear for my immortal soul. It would be hard for me to paint poorly drawn cottages knowing that people believe the “Painter of Light” had ever been anywhere near the paintings and that made them somehow better or more valuble than the crying boy/kitten/kids in adults’ clothes genre.

Ditto. Its not just the pride however, its the feeling that somehow, you’d be selling out.

Rilch, I had exactly the same reaction to the conversation in Rendell’s novel. It really made Tessa come off as naive and spoiled.

Are there some jobs I wouldn’t do? Sure. I wouldn’t be a stripper; I wouldn’t take a job where I would be knowingly ripping people off. I prefer working for non-profits, because I like feeling as though I’m doing some good with my job. But if my family’s finances depended on it, I’d go corporate.

Thanks for the replies, all! Hamsters didn’t let me reply earlier.

jackelope, good quote. I’ll remember it. sublight, good point also.

scr4, well, if people are giving you grant money, then presumably they find merit in your proposals, so you’re not cutting off your nose to spite your face.

AskNott: Lucky you! lieu, well, I can understand that, if you felt you’d be putting money in the pockets of people who were going to use it to rip off other people, or whatever your objection was. Part of the solution, and all that. gwendee: yeah, I forgot about that aspect of the Kincaide machine.

Angua: I wouldn’t sweat “selling out”. There have been several discussions about that term on these boards, and the consensus is that many people define “selling out” simply as “getting enough exposure that other people have now heard of him/her/them, and now I’m not cutting edge any more.”

burundi: You read it too? Awesome!

Yeah, but I was in between grants for half a year due to various circumstances. I just stuck with it until my bank account ran dry or I got another grant, even though I had non-academic job offers.

There are different ways and degrees of “selling out”. Carl Sagan, Phil Plait (Bad Astronomer), etc. have reached out to a wider audience and got wide recognition (and good income, I’d hope). And I admire them for it. On the other hand, I don’t want to “sell out” in the sense that I’d give up control of my work to get more money, i.e. to do things not because I think it’s important, but only because other people pay me to do it.

Anyway that’s the idealized view held by many in the academic community. I realize it’s not accurate but sometimes I can’t help but think that way.

This is an interesting question. The example is quite a starkly contrating one, because the options seem to be - “be a starving artsit who has integrity but no money”, or" compromise your artistic intergrity, but pay the rent". In real life, i think it is rarely a case of integrity or food. Normally it’s simply a matter of the size of the salary- working for Evil Inc. paying better than Groovy un’ Friendly Ltd.
As for my own personal example, I don’t really have a very concrete one, but being a fairly young nipper, I am still at the start of my working life, and haven’t really got a clear idea what I want to do yet. Having studied Literature and Art at university, and therefore knowing a thing or two about both words and images, and priding myself on being a hip young thing that could put my finger on the zeitgeist at any given moment, I briefly considered a career in advertising.

But then I considered how that would be a betrayal of a lot of my beliefs- about how advertising basically creates needs by making us insecure about ourselves etc., and in that way degrades the world we live in, and I realised that the work might indeed be fun and well paid, but that looking at myself in the mirror would be more difficult, so I turned from that path.

My opinion is that whatever gains you may make monetarily are offset with a more deep seated feeling of unease and unhappiness from your conscience. However, it it really was a case of the family starving (unlikely in my current situation, but I’m thinking of the future), I’d take that unethical job in a second. Once our finances were stable again though, I’d think about moving on to something that allowed me to sleep better at night.

I’m working for less because of my principles already. I know many, many people who have left journalism because there is so little money to be made in the lower levels, and went into Public Relations. I stick with it though, for a few reasons:
1- I can be an iconoclast, and no one really minds. PR people must toe a corporate line and image.
2- I can attack the rich and powerful, who I resent anyway, when they screw up.
3- I’m a creative guy who enjoys a challenge, and writing allows me to exercise both inclinations.
3- When all is said and done, all kidding aside, I feel a certain sense of responsibility. Journalism is the only profession protected by the Constitution because it is considered a cornerstone of democracy. I take that pretty seriously. If I’m not out there on the beat, holding those in power accountable, who will be?

Keep hoping. Sagan made millions. I, ah, haven’t made millions. If I had to rely on my Bad Astronomy stuff, I’d starve (and not be able to pay the mortgage). I have a day job which involves astronomy, and in fact involves education and public outreach. It does pay the mortgage (barely).

Let’s see what happens in the future. I always have a few irons in the fire…

And, for the OP: my integrity is very much tied with my job!

:slight_smile: I meant selling out in the sense that scr4 put it. Going “commercialised” or whatever so that someone else dictated the direction that my research should be going, or hinting at what kind of results I ought to be producing.

I love doing the entire outreach thing, and am, through various schemes, such as “Researchers in Residence” and “Science and Engineering Ambasaddors” doing science outreach work with young people. I don’t class that as selling out.