Thursday, April 3, 2014

Artist or Hobbyist?

Venus DeMars has been a pretty well-known figure in the Twin Cities alternative music scene for decades. A few years ago, she was audited by the state Department of Revenue because someone there suspected she shouldn't be filing a small business return and claiming deductions for business expenses related to her music and touring.

I first heard about the case on MinnPost when she was still appealing the ruling against her. Well, now it sounds like the case has been finalized, pronouncing that — despite a long career and clear evidence that it is her main work — she is a hobbyist.

Alison Gerber, a sociology graduate student studies artists as workers, wrote in today's Star Tribune about the case and what it means for artists. It's all worth a read, but this is the part that made me get out the pen and write a big old interrobang:

When the state Revenue Department issued its final determination reclassifying Venus as a hobbyist, it sent her a long document explaining why. One section reads: “The presence of personal motives in carrying on of an activity may indicate that the activity is not engaged in for profit.” Underneath, bullet points outline evidence against her. In just a few words, the auditor’s letter calls into question the centuries-old Western understanding of art as an expression of the artist’s soul. He recasts an aesthetic choice (and savvy brand-building strategy) as a black mark on Venus’ record. The first point reads simply: “The music and art are self-created by the taxpayer and based on [her] life experience and perspective, and are intensely personal.”
What!? How can any artist be considered a business if that's the standard?

Gerber is right in her call for better guidelines from the IRS and state revenue departments.

1 comment:

Patricia Cumbie said...

This case with Venus and the IRS is completely ridiculous and upsetting. If your reasons for doing art are "too personal" what is there that defines art? Mass production for profit so that you, as an artist, can pay more taxes? If you are crocheting multiple toilet paper roll covers in the shape of pirate poodles, which I love BTW, are you more of an artist doing that than someone doing performance art? In the eyes of the IRS, it sounds like yes. This is demoralizing to anyone who takes the arts seriously. I suspect that this may also be a case where the nature of the art being produced by Venus is at odds with someone's personal or political beliefs. It may be impossible to prove, but it makes me wonder.