Supercool artist Molly Crabapple (check her out if you don't already know her) has written a wonderful, thoughtful article about the myth of the American meritocracy, art, and her own experiences. A few of the more poignant excerpts are below, but head over to Vice and read the whole thing.
Art is sometimes seen as gnostic freedom. But being an artist means you're in thrall to cash.
My last art show would have been impossible without the money and network of contacts I'd built. I never could have hauled massive slabs of wood up to my old fifth-floor walk-up—never could have painted them in the lightless room I once shared with three roommates. Without an assistant, I never would have had the time to paint my show. Without sponsorships, I never could have afforded the paint. Sometimes, curators look at the work, and say, "Why didn't you ever paint like that before?" I'd answer, "Because no one gave me enough money to be able to."
A decade of practice honed my talent. But cash let me express it. To pretend otherwise is to spit in the face of every broke genius who can't afford materials or time. It's to say I got here because I'm better than them.
I am good. But it's never just about that.
Not talking about money is a tool of class war. A culture that forbids employees from comparing salaries helps companies pay women and minorities less. Ignoring the mercenary grit behind success leads to quasi-religious abundance gurus claiming you can visualize your way to wealth.
Even we successful artists do it. It's easy to ignore luck, privilege, and bloody social climbing when you stand onstage in a pair of combat boots. It's easy to say that if people are just good enough, work hard enough, ask enough, believe enough, they will be like us.
But it's a lie. Winning does not scale. We may be free beings, but we are constrained by an economic system rigged against us. What ladders we have are being yanked away. Some of us will succeed. The possibility of success is used to call the majority of people failures.