I Read It So You Don’t Have To: ‘The Death of the Artist’

How Big Tech made it harder for working artists to make a living

Matthew McFarlane
Published in
6 min readJun 3, 2021


Photo Illustration: Save As/Medium

I Read It So You Don’t Have To is a series that gives you the TL;DR on a business book you want to read — but don’t have time to.

What did I read?

The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech by William Deresiewicz.

So who’s this William Deresiewicz?

Deresiewicz is an essayist and critic and a former professor of English at Yale. He’s also the author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life and A Jane Austen Education.

Give me the 30-second sell.

Working artists are in trouble. Now, that’s not what you’ll hear from Silicon Valley and its evangelists in the media, who say there’s “never been a better time” for artists, arguing that there are more ways than ever to distribute your work and get eyeballs on your art.

But in The Death of the Artist, Deresiewicz actually asks working artists about what’s happening in their fields. For the book, he interviewed hundreds of working artists in various fields — music, writing, visual art, and film and television. What he found was an arts economy that mirrors the larger national economy: a “middle class” hanging on by the skin of their teeth, teetering on the edge of poverty and burnout while facing difficult choices about compromising their principles in order to make a living.

Partly, this is because the cultural industries that used to nurture and support young artists (publishers, record labels, galleries, and mid-major movie studios, to name a few) have been kneecapped by the internet and the business models of tech companies. Former safe havens at universities, where artists could find time to both teach and work on their craft, have been turned into salt mines worked by a weary army of adjuncts.

All of this means artists have less time to focus on making their art. Instead, Deresiewicz argues that most artists…



Matthew McFarlane
Writer for

Reader, writer, content provider. Fan of hand-made guitars, racket-based sports, and houseplants. You can find me in St. Louie.