Nina Paley is the author of the freely-licensed hit animated film Sita Sings the Blues, among many other things, and is Artist in Residence at QuestionCopyright.org. She is also a committed Free Culture activist who writes frequently about copyright and how the permission culture affects art and artists.
This phrase comes up in many discussions of copyright: "Artists should be compensated for their art." It is assumed that a) Artists are inherently entitled to monetary compensation for their Art, and b) copyright is a mechanism for this compensation.
I challenge both assumptions.
Of course, what people actually say is usually "Artists should be compensated for their work". Below I'm going to distinguish between Art and Work, because confusing the two is exactly the problem.
a) Artists are inherently entitled to monetary compensation for their work.
I agree that artists are entitled to payment FOR THEIR WORK.
WORK is labor exchanged for money. Employer and worker negotiate a fee, the labor is performed, and the worker is paid. Many artists are workers: they are waiters, baristas, truck drivers. They should be compensated for their work, and they are, which is why they work.
Some artists perform a kind of skilled labor for money. This type of pre-negotiated labor is called a commission. Commissioned work is work, and artists are compensated for it, which is why artists take commissions.