When Economics Drives Everything

It’s helpful when the people who are in charge of an artistic endeavor have knowledge, experience and skill. It’s helpful if they have developed tastes and a broad perspective. It’s very helpful if they look at their art as an opportunity to make a contribution to the world by shaking things up, by allowing the audience to be touched or moved, or by transforming life through the creation of the artistic expression or through it’s execution.

When the artist Christo executed “The Gates” in Central Park, people got to look at and walk through those gates and “experience” what that did to them and to their perception of the park and to the others who were also there at the same time. It allowed them to feel something new and different and react to it, and there were all kinds of reactions from being thrilled to feeling a sense of disgust. Such is art.
If the idea of art shifts to being one of making money, things change. If you are designing an artistic product with the idea of “this will make us rich” as the underlying motivation, you will have a different attitude, different goals and different criteria.
About 75% of all Broadway shows lose money. That means that if you invest in a show, you have to be a very brave soul or someone with a lot of money that doesn’t care if it goes up in smoke. If you give money to an artistic organization, you have to hope that it doesn’t get squandered on on things that are peripheral to the project itself. If you value art for art’s sake, you have to understand that not all art is going to make money, or be “successful” or be “popular”.
Artistic organizations in this country continue to struggle with less and less government support, with less interest on the part of audiences, and with difficult issues about the trends in artistic creation. They are more and more turning to investors or backers to help them create their work. In some cases, the investors are content to sit back and watch what the artists develop. In other cases, however, the investors want input into the artists’ process, and can even try to exert influence on what is created. That can be a recipe for disaster.
When economics drives everything, we all lose. Forcing art to be a “money-making endeavor” isn’t a good idea. Allowing creative minds to find avenues to expression is valuable in itself. It’s true, sometimes an artistic idea will end up making a whole lot of money for lots of people. When that happens accidentally, that’s great. But when it doesn’t happen and people decide that not making a profit is a reason for the art to go unsupported, that’s not great.
I passed the Multi-Plex movie today. All the movies showing there were clearly made for 14 year old boys who love the technology or for little kids who like cute cartoons. The market research has decided that this “market slice” is who spends the most money and that these movies, without much plot or dialog, are the easiest ones to sell overseas. The artistic output isn’t as important as the format which has been shown to bring in the most profit. It is, in fact, astounding that other kinds of movies get made at all. It’s an interesting situation.
When economics drives everything, we all lose. Art should exist just because. When we have to turn art into a profit-making enterprise, regardless of what that does to the artistic process itself, we are going in the wrong direction. Too bad the people who have money to give or invest don’t always have that feeling.
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