Saturday, February 13, 2010

Artist dies due to lack of health insurance

Artist Tom Fowler "died because he didn't go to the dentist and didn't go to the doctor because he was trying to be an artist and didn't have health insurance and didn't think it would kill him."

But it did. Writer Cary Tennis wrote about his artist friend's death yesterday in Salon. Read the full story (reposted on Michael Moore's site) at

Tennis's main point is that artists need to create. Most of us artists and writers and performers work full-time jobs to support our habits. Those jobs have health insurance. Everyone should have health insurance but if you're a self-employed artist, it's too expensive -- even if you can qualify. Many artists live on the margins where health insurance doesn't exist.

"Get a job." That's what we used to yell out car windows at street people. I was a kid then and stupid, not realizing that that disheveled guy walking down the street could be a schizophrenic off his meds or a war veteran with PTSD or any number of things, including an itinerant artist. It can have been me or one of my rowdy friends. We could have been looking at our futures.

We appreciate the artist's work when it's hanging on our wall or playing on the iPod. But we don't appreciate the artist's struggle. Sure, on every Grammy telecast there's a millionaire performer telling the sad story about growing up on the streets but now he owns the street and all the houses on it. Great story. The artist struggled and made millions.

But the majority of artists in the U.S. don't even make minimum wage. They don't have health insurance. It might not matter when they're young, but youth fades into the infirmities of age. And then, in this country, you die.

Tennis continues:

A just and wise society would care for its artists. A just and wise society would recognize that on the margins of its norm live its geniuses, and though they are strange and sometimes difficult, they must be cared for, for they are the treasures of our time, and they produce the treasures of our time.

But our society is not just and wise. Still, the artists in our society choose to do their work and find a way to survive somehow, sacrificing things such as health insurance and paid time off. That is what my friend Tom Fowler did. He admitted that he was an artist and the only true thing to do was to paint and see how he could get along. So he painted and saw how he could get along.

"A just and wise society would care for its artists."

In a just and wise society, everyone would have health insurance. Even artists.

1 comment:

Tony said...
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