Let’s talk about art and commerce.
To get the obvious stuff out of the way, first, I am using here a very broad definition of art, so we can simply skip the arguments about what is and isn’t art. Second, those of you who want to make Garfunkle jokes, or any of the other oh-so-original cracks playing off the word “art,” please feel free to do so in the privacy of your own blog.
It is obvious that art and commerce are intertwined, and have been since class society has existed, and will continue to be so as long as class society exists. That does not, however, mean we have to be pleased about it, nor that we cannot do what we can to fight it. Simply accepting it, is to accept money as the measure of quality of a work of art, and I am unwilling to do that.
And yet, here is the problem: among so many people today, particularly people who call themselves progressives, there appears to be a conviction that the most important thing about a work of art is not if it moves the audience, not if it shows us something about life, not if helps us understand people who are unlike us, not if it challenges our beliefs, not if it helps us work through moral issues that perhaps we haven’t considered, but, rather money. Because I keep hearing things like this:
We cannot support this person, he gives money to bad causes. And this person has been accused of having done terrible things, so we must deprive him of money. That person is clearly evil, and must be punished by having his income reduced. This person over here is much more deserving of reward, and therefore the money that would go to someone else should go here instead.
Have you considered that, when you say that, what you are really saying is, “The most important aspect of a work of art is what the artist does with the income it generates”?
That’s it, that’s what you’re saying. This is such a complete capitulation to the values of capitalism, an utter surrender to the most loathsome forms of commercialism, that it astonishes me that anyone who expresses it could consider her- or himself anything but an utter conservative.
There is one writer—I shan’t name him, because I fear some of you would stop reading him—who is, or at least was, a conservative, right-wing Republican. As a writer, he has a sharp eye for detail, a deft hand with touching one’s emotional buttons, and an outstanding ability to express human interaction. I consider his work to be among the most subversive in our field; it takes a real effort to read him and not have one’s view of society called into question, to not see how capitalist society degrades and tries to crush the human spirit, and how we are capable of heroism in resisting it.
To get personal for a moment, I consider myself a red, a revolutionary. If I had the talent and skill to do one tenth as effective a job of calling the status quo into question in my books as he does in his, I’d be satisfied indeed.
Would he agree with this analysis? Hell no. I don’t care. What I care about is that his work challenges society as it is, and encourages everyone who reads it to do the same. If he then takes the money he’s paid and gives it to causes I consider vile, that is more than made up for by the truth he reveals; his work is a thousand times more progressive then the philistines who would attack him.
You are not standing on the moral high ground, it just looks that way because your vision is impaired.