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View Full Version : The Cost of "Art" vs. Basic Human Needs



AuntShecky
12-02-2010, 06:04 PM
Let me say at the outset that art and literature are not only important but essential aspects of human civilization.

Whether one is an artist or part of the audience, the arts and literature are part of our life's blood; indeed, we might not even survive without it. As William Carlos Williams said about poetry, "men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there."

In an egalitarian society, as the United States bills itself to be, there should be no discrimination among differing economic classes, especially when it comes to the arts. Art should be for everyone, not just the well-heeled, Ivy League-educated tier. In reality, nevertheless, there is de facto artistic segregation. Sadly not everyone has access to everything, and thus various types of audiences are assumed to have differing tastes -- "high brow," and "low brow," as well as the one-size-fits-all lateral stretch of "popular culture."

The latter is the realm wherein we have the dangerous situation of art mixing it up with commerce. The long-standing conventional wisdom within this country of mine has a tendency to equate quantity with quality, that "bigger" must be "better." (It's like fast-food, but it ain't cheap.) This mentality continually creeps into the popular arts in that budgets for movies and Broadway shows have a tendency to escalate into the stratosphere. In the past couple of decades or so, I do believe that commerce has polluted the world of art, and as a result the former realm of beauty and humanity has become decadent and disgustingly crass.

Two cases in point--

The perhaps still-born Broadway musical version of Spiderman with a pre-production cost of $65 million may be the most expensive stage production in history. Yet last week's preview of the show
was rife with more glitches than my old PC, "Pong II":

http://thedailynewsonline.com/entertainment/article_b3719f1e-fc21-11df-bd7b-001cc4c002e0.html

Similarly, last year's SF extravaganza by James Cameron,
Avatar, supposedly brought in enormous box office receipts, but producing it cost nearly $half-a-billion-- that's billion with a "b"!
http://gawker.com/5400756/did-avatar-really-cost-half-a-billion-dollars

That it brought hordes of moviegoers to the theatre is beyond the point as critics, while admiring the state-of-the-art special effects, thought the film artistically shallow. Not only that, some detected a certain condescending, perhaps even imperialistic tinge in how the characters related to the blue-skinned natives of the invaded planet. Apparently, Cameron did not pay as much attention to the script as he did to the spectacular computer generated imagery, as the plot seemed lifted straight out of one of his earlier epics,Aliens. Still, the movie generated big box office action.

But at what price? I know this is akin to "comparing apples with oranges" as the cliché goes, and I also know that it's the "bottom line"-- the net, as opposed to the gross-- profits that count. The production money for both movies and Broadway shows come not from the government nor any non-profit agencies but from private investors. Still, I question the morality of spending $500 million to make a movie and $65 million to mount a show when the unemployment rate is close to
10%:
http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm
when millions of Americans --including children are homeless:
http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

Regardless of the source of the funds, to spend that much money in this way shows a cavalier attitude toward society at large, a "let them eat cake" kind of insouciant attitude, as if the economically-deprived do not exist or their plight is not as important as making a big profit for Hollywood. The arts community is supposed to be part of the larger human community, not a rarefied, gated community, a world of their own!

As a culture, we've got our priorities backward. It's okay to pay a professional athlete $100 million a year, a--to use Huxley's term --"pneumatic" actress $10 million per picture--"Hey, they're worth it!" And "Hey, so what if it cost $500 million--it's all up there on the screen!" (Conversely, a decade or so ago, when told that the wildly-popular The Blair Witch Project cost only $25,000, comedian Chris Rock made a quip to the effect that every penny of $1000 was up there on the screen, and that somebody was walking around with $24,000 in his pocket.)

Still, we're hard pressed to find anybody leading cheers for the poor or asking a worker whose job has been outsourced overseas for his autograph.

Please don't tell me that movie productions help people get jobs, as doing something about unemployment isn't on the producers' radar screen at all. And certainly an unemployed person can't afford to take his family to see Avatar (at $12 a ticket) or subscribe to HBO, let alone take them to see a Broadway show, where ticket prices average over $100 a copy, similar to Major League Baseball and NFL games, which are also on a track to keep the working class and lower middle-class out of obtaining affordable access. So much for "popular" culture, right?

Weigh in, on this, LitNutters. Tell me if you think that movies and shows are becoming too expensive to produce, and if the arts have become completely engulfed by filthy lucre in general. How can we rearrange our priorities in order to cover both the economic and artistic needs of society?

Paulclem
12-02-2010, 06:42 PM
I agree with your premise Aunty. I can't say know much about, or appreciate, the stage, but I must say I've been more disappointed than not when watching films - especially those with the inflated maketing over the past quite a few years.

As a Brit who only ever gets a brief BBC spin of US news, and the polished and well heeled image of US society, the most shocking thing in recent times was the reaction to the flooding caused by katrina.

What we saw here was the richest, and arguably most powerful, nation seemingly abandoning the poor of new Orleans. If that is only the media's projection, then I confess my ignorence of the actual circumstances.

If that's the situation, then the attitude of society at large to the unemployed and homeless doesn't surprise me. It's the same here at the moment. Large cuts are being made, many of which are targeting the poor, and whilst everyone will be affected, this will - of course - not be felt too much by even the modestly well off.

LitNetIsGreat
12-03-2010, 06:51 AM
Firstly, well written Aunty, and I’m sure that many people will agree with questioning the morality of excess when others suffer. However, simply put, this is the way it has always been. Inequality is nothing new and has existed in all societies, at all times. Rightly or wrongly, this is the way of life under the current way we do things and are likely to do so in the future. All that is different is that a few more people are beginning to feel the bite which makes the inequality stand out a little more – that’s all.

We live in a money driven society and unless that focus is somehow dramatically shifted in the future, i.e. nuclear war, biological disaster, the birth of Utopia, etc then it is always going to be like that, more so.

It is rather absurd that we live in a world of 1 billion starving and 1 billion clinically obese, but that is the world we live in. I don’t have the answers, but I don’t think you can say to someone make all the money you want but don’t spend it.

Emil Miller
12-03-2010, 07:50 AM
I have just finished a novel which is being proof-printed now and here is the last paragraph on the back cover;


Set in the 1970s this story may be as much about its readers as the characters in the story, for a large part of humanity was sold mechanically processed sub-musical rubbish before and after the decade. How this was done is at the heart of this satire on the psychology of deceit and mass manipulation.

Alexander III
12-03-2010, 12:31 PM
I have to disagree with you; Art is NOT for everyone. The notion that we are all equal is rubbish.

Firstly art requires a certain amount of study, dedication and intellect to appreciate. That is why 40% of the male population has never read a novel or poem outside the context of school and university. That is why everyone knows who lady gaga is but fewer know who Ludovico Einaudi is.

Know Im not saying art is for the rich, but I am saying that art is for the educated and intelligent. And the educated and intelligent tend to often compose a fair amount of the rich.


"Still, I question the morality of spending $500 million to make a movie and $65 million to mount a show when the unemployment rate is close to
10%:"

When they spend such large amounts it's because they know they will have a return of 1-2 billion dollars. So I see no moral issues there, you gotta invest big to earn big.

AuntShecky
12-03-2010, 05:45 PM
With the unemployment figures released this morning, coupled with the fact that experts were predicting 150,000
new jobs to be created when there are a paltry 39,000, makes the situation even worse. That is not a political statement at all, for there is no single government official person or specific group of people to blame it on--although I do believe that the unemployed people themselves are not the culprit, and thus deserve sympathy and understanding. They don't deserve insensitivity.

A similar economic situation occurred during the Depression (an era which, believe it or not, predated yours fooly.) The conventional wisdom holds that in the 30s and
early 40s the movies served an important social function, as they lifted the spirits of those caught in desperate economic straits. Apparently, going to the movies had certain perks such as "Dish Night" and the like. Granted, back then production costs and labor were much less than they are in "today's dollars." Still, the Thalbergs and the Mayers et al. would never, ever think of spending excessively. Folks would ride them out of town on a rail!

The point I'm making is not that movies shouldn't be made nor that they shouldn't attempt to make a profit. What I'm railing about is the cavalier excess, the over-the-top spending which smacks of insensitivity of the worst kind.

Neely:
Your point is a good one. Just the other night I learned -- from The History Channel's " Modern Marvels" no less--that the biggest health crisis on earth is not AIDS or cancer or infectious disease. It's hunger. Of the 5 billion people inhabiting the planet, one in 7 will die of starvation or disease brought on by malnutrition. One in seven.

Paulclem brought out a notion that was at the back of my mind when I made the original posting. I just can't imagine that the other countries of the world, including your own, will think very kindly of the U.S. with such spendthrift excess as well as the chasm between the tiny 1% who hold 90% of the country's wealth while the remaining 10% is spread down through 99% of the population. That's pretty topsy-turvy.

All over the country school budgets are cut, and what's first to go are the arts and music education. There may be children who are beautifully talented, but we will never know because they're being cheated out of a well-rounded
education. Again, that is not a political statement, but shows the incongruity of the fact that hundreds of millions are floating around to make mediocre movies. That short-sightedness makes absolutely no sense to me.

And finally, Alexander III-- I realize that investors sink this much upfront $ because they'll recoup $1- 2 billions in profit. BUT-- what is happening is that soon only big budget, extravagant epics will be produced, and "little" pictures -- independent, arty
films won't get made. It used to be that because publishing houses made enough profits from "blockbusters" a la Grisham or Stephen King or Ms. Rawling that they had enough "wiggle room" to take their chances on longer shots, such as first-time novelists, and "literary" fiction writers. I'm really afraid that publishers will take their cue from the risk averse movie producers and strictly go with the "sure thing."

And finally, Alexander, I hope you weren't implying that only rich people can be educated, intelligent, and interested in the arts. If so, that's heartbreaking news for quite a number of us in the very bottom row of the aforementioned 99%.

Emil Miller
12-03-2010, 06:05 PM
Aunt Schecky, you are missing the point. I have already posted on this issue on this forum. I am interested in finance, and when an investor asked a well-known investment magazine about investing in films because they seem to make such huge profits, the answer was no. Why? Because 90% of the money spent on films today goes on publicity to fool the suckers into watching computer generated rubbish. The return for the film companies and their investors is around 5%, hardly a good return on the money invested.

LitNetIsGreat
12-03-2010, 06:09 PM
The point I'm making is not that movies shouldn't be made
nor that they shouldn't attempt to make a profit. What I'm railing about is the cavalier excess, the over-the-top spending which smacks of insensitivity of the worst kind.

I agree, but any spending made by the world's top 1% could be seen as insensitive, it's not limited to the art/movie world by a long way. Spending thousands on vintage wine while kids lack clean water. Spending millions on a house when thousands are homeless. Spending thousands of fancy dresses while women make a dollar a day in some sweat shop and so on, it's the way it is.

Yes I would say that is unfair and insensitive personally, but then again, like I said before, people can't have it both ways. You can't open the doors for a few individuals to make millions and then criticise them for spending it.

Paulclem
12-03-2010, 07:07 PM
I have to disagree with you; Art is NOT for everyone. The notion that we are all equal is rubbish.



I have to agree with you - art is not for everyone, because the larger proportion of any population will not have the means to appreciate it. this says nothing about their intelligence, their lack of culture, their ignorence of Ludovico Einaudi, (who? :lol:). It merely says that some people - the smaller proportion - have the means and then the education along with the familial nurturing, monetary support, an extended network of family and friendly contacts, a good quality school with teachers above the usual run etc etc. In short, they don't have any of the opportunities afforded those in priviledged positions.

I've seen this type of argument before - the assumption that success/ intelligence/ culture in a person is some innate thing. That's really the rubbish. It's why the British upper class go on about blood, breeding and lineage. It's a self delusion that belies the fact that they have all the opportunities to do really really well. The astounding thing is that some brilliant individuals from the rather lower echelons, (not me I hasten to add), also do rather well.

But what you said is true in our situation - because it's not better, fairer, more equal than it should be.

stlukesguild
12-05-2010, 02:05 PM
In an egalitarian society, as the United States bills itself to be...

Ummm... who exactly bills the United States as an egalitarian nation? The U.S. is a Republic based upon Democratic ideals primary being an assumption that all are born with certain basic rights which are protected equally under the law. Egalitarianism assumes that all people are equal and are deserving of equal rights and privileges and that the government has a responsibility to enforce this equality... largely through a redistribution of wealth and power.

I doubt that many Americans buy into this idea, and fewer yet would believe that such beliefs are a driving ideal behind America. The very premise is false, because people are not equal. Some people are taller, faster, stronger, smarter. Some are better at math and science and others are better at languages and the arts. Some are better at making money. Even if we were to take away all the personal belongings and start again from ground zero... certain individuals will be far better at acquiring wealth and/or power than others.

Art has always followed wealth and power. Art has always depended upon wealth and power. You don't get a Parthenon, a Cathedral of Notre Dame, a St. Peters or a Sistine, a Mozart or Bach, a Dante or Milton as a result of the support of the poor masses. A composer cannot support himself for the months it might take to write an opera on the hand outs from farmers and laborers. You don't get a Divine Comedy written for an audience that cannot read and lacks the time needed to grasp the symbolism, formal structures, allusions, and historical references in such a work of art.

there should be no discrimination among differing economic classes, especially when it comes to the arts...

"Should"? Why? Do you honestly believe that all art is for all people? That is incredibly naive. I'll admit in a second that Chinese opera is not for me. I don't have the time... or rather I'm not willing to put forth the time needed to understand the vocabulary of this art form. James Joyce clearly has a limited audience, as does Arnold Schoenberg or Jackson Pollack.

Art should be for everyone, not just the well-heeled, Ivy League-educated tier. In reality, nevertheless, there is de facto artistic segregation.

Art is for everybody, but it is ridiculous to assume that the same art is for everybody. I'm reminded of the scene out of John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces in which the lead character, Ignatius J. Reilly, is working is working in a pants manufacturing company and takes it upon himself to replace the pop music being piped in to the workers with Gregorian chant. When the workers revolt, he is initially confused as to how they could not appreciate the superior aesthetic experience that he was now providing them... and then he thinks... it must be something akin to Pavlovian conditioning: they've listened to this crappy pop music for so long that they actually think they like it.

So what would you have? Should we impose the superior aesthetic experience of Shakespeare and Dante and Beethoven and Mozart and Rembrandt and Matisse upon all people... using Pavlovian conditioning if necessary?

There is a segregation in the arts for the very simple reason that art is an elective affinity. We are free to choose to invest the time and effort... and even the money... needed for a greater understanding of a body of art... or not. We are free to decide whether a given art form, genre, artist, or art work is worth our effort... whether is will likely repay our investment and effort with the desired degree of pleasure... or not.

The great majority... even of those who love and read literature seriously... have decided that Finnegan's Wake is not worth the effort. I seriously doubt that the masses are bemoaning the fact that they cannot easily attend the Metropolitan Opera on a frequent basis nor afford to bid on the latest Jackson Pollack when it goes on auction at Christie's.

Sadly not everyone has access to everything, and thus various types of audiences are assumed to have differing tastes -- "high brow," and "low brow," as well as the one-size-fits-all lateral stretch of "popular culture."

The reality is that the individual... at least in the well-heeled Western nations... have far more access to everything than even the wealthiest aristocrat had a couple hundred years ago. I can visit museums and see the greatest paintings an sculpture and other visual art objects from across the whole of history and across the whole planet. Most museums have days or hours when they are free and open to all. If I cannot travel to such a museum, I can seem much of the art in books that I can borrow from the library, or on the computer. I have access to almost anything written through the libraries and inexpensive publishing. A scholar of Chaucer's time might have had but a few books which he guarded with his life because they were worth more than a years wages. Today I can find a great deal of the older literature for free on line (Project Gutenberg, etc...) or in inexpensive volumes at used book stores. I never even need to attend the opera or symphony... I can buy cheap CDs and DVDs which (again) I can get from the library. As a poor art student I had access to all of this. As a more well-off art teacher/artist I still choose to explore a great deal that might be defined as "low brow": Elmore James, Johnny Cash, R. Crumb, Tim Burton films, etc... Art is an elective affinity.

The latter is the realm wherein we have the dangerous situation of art mixing it up with commerce.

How do you imagine that "high art" is above commerce or the influence of money? Money controls the art galleries and museums and impacts what art is collected and deemed important. Money is behind the grants and the college teaching positions that allow composers and writers to create without worrying about pleasing the masses. Money is behind the decisions as to which operas, plays, ballets, symphonies and films will be given the support of a full production. Samuel Johnson recognized the reality when he declared, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."

The long-standing conventional wisdom within this country of mine has a tendency to equate quantity with quality, that "bigger" must be "better." (It's like fast-food, but it ain't cheap.) This mentality continually creeps into the popular arts in that budgets for movies and Broadway shows have a tendency to escalate into the stratosphere.

And do you assume that this is unique? The French cities competed with each other to create the tallest cathedrals. St. Peters stood for years as the largest church in the whole of Christendom, the Buddhists carved towering Buddhas into the entire sides of mountains. the Egyptians built towering pyramids in the middle of the desert... transporting limestone from hundreds of miles away, the Romans constructed a stadium that might have rivaled many of the today's modern sports stadiums. The Titanic was heralded as the largest and most luxurious cruise ship ever. Today the Chinese are constructing several buildings that will tower in height well above the Sears Tower. Art has always involved spectacle. One might argue that it is only in the popular arts that we find the sort of spectacle that was once frequently found in the "high arts"... for the simple reason that this is where the money lies... with the masses, not the "elite".

In the past couple of decades or so, I do believe that commerce has polluted the world of art, and as a result the former realm of beauty and humanity has become decadent and disgustingly crass.

Again... how has this changed from the past. Robert Hughes famously pointed out that the artistic innovations and spectacle of the Renaissance was bankrolled by the Borgias, Medici, Orsini, Barberini, and other bankers, money-lenders, and aristocrats who were notoriously rapacious and blood-thirsty... to a degree that any South American drug lord might relate to. Hughes goes on to relate:

Sigismundo da Malatesta, the Lord of Rimini, had excellent taste. He hired the most refined of quattrocento architects, Leon Battista Alberti, to design a memorial temple to his wife, and then got the sculptor Agostino di Duccio to decorate it, and retained Piero della Francesca to paint it. Yet Sigismondo was a man of such callousness and rapacity that he was known in life as Il Lupo, The Wolf, and so execrated after his death that the Catholic Church made him (for a time) the only man apart from Judas Iscariot officially listed as being in Hell -- a distinction he earned by trussing up a Papal emissary, the fifteen-year-old Bishop of Fano, in his own rochet and publicly sodomizing him before his applauding army in the main square of Rimini.

Perhaps the greatest change between Malatesta and today's Russian Oligarch or Chinese shipping magnate, or American oil tycoon who buys art, is that Malatesta, as was expected of the Italian Renaissance aristocrat, was well educated in the arts and dealt directly with the leading artists of the day, where today's collector is often quite ignorant of art and relies upon the seductive whisperings of the middle men... the gallery dealers and art advisers... whose sole goal is to make money. The reality is that there is no more decadence to be found in the lives of those who support the arts, those who make the arts, and the art work itself... than there ever has been.

Two cases in point--

Somehow I imagine that these both pale along side of the actions of Malatesta, Lorenzo de' Medici, or the Doges of Venice.

That it brought hordes of moviegoers to the theatre is beyond the point as critics, while admiring the state-of-the-art special effects, thought the film artistically shallow...

Somehow, I imagine that drawing in the huge audience and making a huge profit WAS the point. The critics don't put food on the table or money in the pocket... and in the long-run are largely irrelevant. Realistically, popular art has just as much chance of surviving in the long-run as the most esoteric "high art". In both instances more than 99% of everything is mediocre at best. The worst of the populist art and the worst of the avant-gard are equally bad. They are simply bad in different ways. In many ways the bad avant-gard may be worse because it has such pretense to artistic brilliance.

Not only that, some detected a certain condescending, perhaps even imperialistic tinge in how the characters related to the blue-skinned natives of the invaded planet...

Ummm... I think that was the intended message. The film was something of a critique of the Imperialistic attitudes of the West toward "simple-minded" natives with their earth-based religions and respect for nature.

Apparently, Cameron did not pay as much attention to the script as he did to the spectacular computer generated imagery, as the plot seemed lifted straight out of one of his earlier epics,Aliens.

Actually I see very little connection with Aliens. Personally, I found the film a bit obvious in its message... and the Marine Colonel was an over-the-top ridiculous stereotype, ala Rambo... but as a visual artist, I found the film visually stunning and can appreciate it on this level. One might note that many of the greatest operas (Mme. Butterfly for example) were structured upon rather mediocre literature.

But at what price?

Obviously, the film made more money than it cost... and this was the intention of the producers.

I also know that it's the "bottom line"-- the net, as opposed to the gross-- profits that count. The production money for both movies and Broadway shows come not from the government nor any non-profit agencies but from private investors. Still, I question the morality of spending $500 million to make a movie and $65 million to mount a show when the unemployment rate is close to 10%.

Regardless of the source of the funds, to spend that much money in this way shows a cavalier attitude toward society at large, a "let them eat cake" kind of insouciant attitude, as if the economically-deprived do not exist or their plight is not as important as making a big profit for Hollywood. The arts community is supposed to be part of the larger human community, not a rarefied, gated community, a world of their own!

The definition of an artist is "someone who makes art." There is nothing in that definition to suggest that an artist SHOULD be a profit or a visionary or a social or political leader. Some artists are certainly driven by social/political/religious concerns. Some are not. Ultimately, the success or failure of a work of art is measured solely on aesthetic terms and not on the basis of morality, ethics, religion, or any other external value.

As a culture, we've got our priorities backward. It's okay to pay a professional athlete $100 million a year, a--to use Huxley's term --"pneumatic" actress $10 million per picture--"Hey, they're worth it!" And "Hey, so what if it cost $500 million--it's all up there on the screen!"

Where do we draw the line? Who decides when a work of art is too expensive? $500 million is too much? What of $100 million? $1 million? $50,000? $500? You could certainly still feed a lot of people on just $500.
Perhaps we should abandon all expenditures on the arts until poverty, crime, rape, murder, etc... are all eliminated.

I'm reminded of an exhibition of paintings, drawings, and prints I saw some years ago by the artist, Sue Coe. Coe's paintings were horrific commentaries on violence in all facets of life. In an artist's statement painted on the wall she declared, "People ask how long will I continue to make such brutal, dark art. My answer is that until there is no more violence, no more mureder, no more rape, no more oppression, no more poverty and starvation I will continue to act as a witness of man's brutality." I turned to the friend I was with and said, "I guess she's gonna be doing this a long time." Of course the irony (which seemingly escaped Ms. Coe) was that this art was exhibited in a high-end mid-town gallery with a rent that must have been in the tens or thousands, and it was bought and supported by well-heeled collectors... not by the starving masses.

Still, we're hard pressed to find anybody leading cheers for the poor or asking a worker whose job has been outsourced overseas for his autograph.

There are certainly artists whose art is deeply involved with social concerns. But as William Gass suggested, such is no guarantee of artistic worth:


"I think it is one of the artist's obligations to create as perfectly as he or she can, not regardless of all other consequences, but in full awareness, nevertheless, that in pursuing other values -- in championing Israel or fighting for the rights of women, or defending the faith, or exposing capitalism, supporting your sexual preferences, or speaking for your race -- you may simply be putting on a saving scientific, religious, political mask to disguise your failure as an artist. Neither the world's truth nor a god's goodness will win you beauty's prize."

Please don't tell me that movie productions help people get jobs, as doing something about unemployment isn't on the producers' radar screen at all.

Whether that is their concern or not, it is still a result. I doubt that the Medici Lord was thinking of the families and children of the masons, brick-layers, apprentices, glaziers, artisans and day-laborers involved in the construction of the latest palace or chapel... but it was certainly a result.

And certainly an unemployed person can't afford to take his family to see Avatar (at $12 a ticket) or subscribe to HBO, let alone take them to see a Broadway show, where ticket prices average over $100 a copy, similar to Major League Baseball and NFL games, which are also on a track to keep the working class and lower middle-class out of obtaining affordable access. So much for "popular" culture, right?

And you imagine that not only are we born with certain inalienable rights... but also we should all be granted equal privileges. I should be able to drink all the Dom Perignon I wish, eat all the Beluga cavier and Filet Mignon I desire, travel whenever I wish to Paris, London, or Rome where I should be greeted by Nicolas Sarkozy, HRH Elizabeth, and the Pope himself, and sit in the best seats at the La Scala or Yankee Stadium... and if not, I'm being oppressed.

Come see the oppression inherent in the system!!!

How can we rearrange our priorities in order to cover both the economic and artistic needs of society?

Who is "we"? If this is a deep concern of yours, then certainly... make art about it; write about it; support those artists and arts institutions that support your belief... but don't imagine that things have ever been different than they are now... or likely ever will.

JCamilo
12-05-2010, 06:00 PM
I find it complicated.

First Art is for everyone. Dante is not. Mozart is not. Sleeping Beauty is not. Iron Maiden is not. Lady Gaga is not. Shakespeare is not. Obviously, Art is not only what is a great art, art is also the failures.

Second, Democracy is nice but often people transform it in a dictadorship of some majority. Access to art is one thing. Access to production is another. Access to the market another. And access to the so called immortality another. If you think, every art must be reckonized a valluable due the aesthetic merits, because we live in a democratic society is transforming democracy in a hellhole

AuntShecky
12-06-2010, 03:47 PM
[QUOTE=stlukesguild;984513]
Ummm... who exactly bills the United States as an egalitarian nation?

Our founding fathers in general, Thomas Jefferson specifically, in the Declaration of Independence:" We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

If the lower middle and working classes are equal, then their economic situation should not deter them from pursuing happiness nor deny them access to the arts.

Art is for everybody, but it is ridiculous to assume that the same art is for everybody.

Who gets to decide who gets which kind of art? And if it is, as you say, an "elective activity," the fact that one cannot "elect" which economic tier to belong to takes the choice out of the equation. For despite ambition, intelligence, education, hard work, some people end up poor by external circumstances -- chance, luck, a lack of opportunity, perhaps deliberately put there by those who are in the upper economic classes and do their damndest
to keep it that way.

The reality is that the individual... at least in the well-heeled Western nations... have far more access to everything than even the wealthiest aristocrat had a couple hundred years ago.

That's absolutely true, but the public and private support for the arts is dwindling. Library branches and museums with shorter hours, and so on. Not everybody gets the opportunity to see an opera, or even lawn seats (an oxymoron) for symphony concerts or live theatre for that matter. Many of us can't afford tickets to community productions, let alone semi-professional regional theatre. On top of than, when local school district budgets get cut, the first thing they cut is music and art, even before the football team.

Money is behind the decisions as to which operas, plays, ballets, symphonies and films will be given the support of a full production.
And money also decides who gets to be in the audience as well.

Samuel Johnson recognized the reality when he declared, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."
Does that mean no one should write anything unless he or she can sell it somewhere? If so, why are there so many postings on the LitNet?

The worst of the populist art and the worst of the avant-gard are equally bad. They are simply bad in different ways. In many ways the bad avant-gard may be worse because it has such pretense to artistic brilliance.
I agree with that statement 100%.

Ultimately, the success or failure of a work of art is measured solely on aesthetic terms and not on the basis of morality, ethics, religion, or any other external value.
Certainly I agree with this statement, with one point added--the amount of money used to create the work of art should be irrelevant regarding its aesthetic value.

Perhaps we should abandon all expenditures on the arts until poverty, crime, rape, murder, etc... are all eliminated.
Couldn't we rearrange our priorities, though? Keep the needs of humanity in perspective? Again, great art doesn't have to cost money to produce. How much does it cost to write a sonnet? How much did it cost Van Gogh to buy his canvas and paints?

There are certainly artists whose art is deeply involved with social concerns. But as William Gass suggested, such is no guarantee of artistic worth:


"I think it is one of the artist's obligations to create as perfectly as he or she can, not regardless of all other consequences, but in full awareness, nevertheless, that in pursuing other values -- in championing Israel or fighting for the rights of women, or defending the faith, or exposing capitalism, supporting your sexual preferences, or speaking for your race -- you may simply be putting on a saving scientific, religious, political mask to disguise your failure as an artist. Neither the world's truth nor a god's goodness will win you beauty's prize."

I agree with this, although I hope I'm not a "failed" artist. (Cf. Dr. Johnson's statement.) Subject matter about socialconcerns can sometimes produce something great, sometimes it's ephemeral drivel. Dante, for instance, might have been the most "political" writer we ever had. While English Renaissance writers and dramatists tried to cozy up to the nobility, the provenance of their patronage, they did it only to keep soul and body together. That we are still reading their works isn't primarily because they ***kissed Queen Elizabeth I.

An artist or writer can be apolitical if he chooses, or he can be political as a person and apolitical as an artist. (Cf. Auden, who abandoned his youthful attraction to politics, and Orwell, whose socialism apparently was more philosophical than acutely political.)

Come see the oppression inherent in the system!!!

Where do I start? Just as minority groups have been discriminated and oppressed in our history, so have the poor been locked out of opportunities. Can't there be just one area -- the arts -- where lack of money is not an issue?

stlukesguild
12-06-2010, 09:30 PM
Our founding fathers in general, Thomas Jefferson specifically, in the Declaration of Independence:" We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

If the lower middle and working classes are equal, then their economic situation should not deter them from pursuing happiness nor deny them access to the arts.

No government can guarantee "happiness". We are free to pursue happiness, but it isn't the government's responsibility to assure us of happiness... to guarantee us the Hollywood film goddess for a wife, nightly dinners at 5-star restaurants, and a Monet hanging over the fireplace.

Who gets to decide who gets which kind of art? And if it is, as you say, an "elective activity," the fact that one cannot "elect" which economic tier to belong to takes the choice out of the equation. For despite ambition, intelligence, education, hard work, some people end up poor by external circumstances -- chance, luck, a lack of opportunity, perhaps deliberately put there by those who are in the upper economic classes and do their damndest to keep it that way.

The individual decides what art is or is not for them. Obviously I do not have the option to purchase that Monet or Picasso when it comes up on auction at Christies, but I can see it in the museum and galleries as well as in books and online. Obviously, the class and culture and family we are born into impacts us as they provide our first exposure to the arts... but the choice is still up to the individual. I come from a working-class family, but that has not kept me from being able to come to appreciate classical music, opera, Shakespeare, Dante, Rubens, and Michelangelo even if I cannot afford weekend trips to Paris and Rome or a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera.

...the public and private support for the arts is dwindling. Library branches and museums with shorter hours, and so on. Not everybody gets the opportunity to see an opera, or even lawn seats (an oxymoron) for symphony concerts or live theatre for that matter. Many of us can't afford tickets to community productions, let alone semi-professional regional theatre. On top of than, when local school district budgets get cut, the first thing they cut is music and art, even before the football team.

That's true... but who is it that is doing this budget cutting? It is largely the wealthy and the educated middle-class that supports the arts institutions... while the push for cuts in the arts budget largely comes from ignorant, ill-educated politicians and their supporters who are the ones who believe that the museums, the theater, the opera, the symphony, etc... are solely for the "elite". How do you convince "Joe six-pack" that ultimately the symphony, the museums, the libraries etc... are as important (if not more so) to his community than the subsidized sports stadium, the latest slasher films and Hollywood blockbusters, and Lady Gaga? The poor have been notoriously successful at voting (continually) against their own best interests.

Does that mean no one should write anything unless he or she can sell it somewhere? If so, why are there so many postings on the LitNet?

It means that most professionals in any field of the arts recognize the fact that art is something more than self expression or personal therapy. There is a two-way relationship between the artist and audience. This doesn't mean one need to pander to the audience... but neither does one get anywhere by taking the audience for granted or treating them with hostility. Again, artists must eat as much as anyone else.

Certainly I agree with this statement, with one point added--the amount of money used to create the work of art should be irrelevant regarding its aesthetic value.

This is true... to an extent. Money affects the medium... and the medium impacts the content. By this I mean that there is a content inherent in marble... in gold...in oil paint... that differs from plywood, tin, and crayons. The grandiose in scale also conveys a content different from the miniature. This does not mean that the more expensive is necessarily "better" but different. Vermeer's tiny paintings hold their own ground against the great heroic-scaled canvases of Rubens. William Blake's hand-made prints colored with watercolors surpass anything achieved by Gainsborough, Raeburn, Romney, or any of the great English oil painters of the day (Turner excepted). Artists recognize that they must work with their medium and within their means. As Pablo Picasso declared:

We artists are indestructible; even in a prison, or in a concentration camp, I would be almighty in my own world of art, even if I had to paint my pictures with my wet tongue on the dusty floor of my cell.

If the means for available to an artist are too small, he or she must put forth the effort to supplement these. I am not assured a 10,000 square foot studio with 20 assistants on call, models, and enough oil paint to cover the Great wall of China. If my ambitions demand large, it is up to me not society to do what must be done.

Couldn't we rearrange our priorities, though? Keep the needs of humanity in perspective? Again, great art doesn't have to cost money to produce. How much does it cost to write a sonnet? How much did it cost Van Gogh to buy his canvas and paints?

Number one- Do you assume that if the producers of Avatar had spent $50,000 instead of $500,000,000 that they would have used the savings to fund education in Appalachia or the inner-cities and to confront hunger in Africa? Is such aid to Africa even in the least effective when the political leaders largely abscond with most of it because they haven't the least concern for their own people?

As for the second half of the question... how much does it cost to compose and produce a symphony or an opera? How much does it cost to write and publish/print/promote a novel? How much does oil paint and canvas cost? You'd be surprised. You cannot paint in the house without dealing with issues of toxic fumes (as well as the mess) and so most artists must maintain an external studio. Mine costs over $150 per month... and this is nothing compared to what one might expect in one of the major art centers like New York, London, Paris, LA, Chicago, etc... Linen costs well over $20 per yard. Gesso (primer) is over $20 per gallon. Oil paint varies greatly in price. Artist's grade Cadmium Red can cost upwards of $100 for a few ounces. I used pastel... and each single pastel stick costs $4. Most artists I know easily spend several thousand dollars a year of their own money to support their art. Artists who make a living from their art and must produce far more certainly spend far more.

An artist or writer can be apolitical if he chooses, or he can be political as a person and apolitical as an artist. (Cf. Auden, who abandoned his youthful attraction to politics, and Orwell, whose socialism apparently was more philosophical than acutely political.)

Certainly. One of my favorite artists and writers is William Blake who was nothing if not political. He railed against society at all levels. His art was certainly small in scale and cost of production... but surely not small in ambition or achievement. Had he lived today, I suspect he would have freely made use of the technology of lithographic (and later photographic) reproductions to mass produce his art and reach a larger audience. But its not the politics that makes Blake a great artist. Matisse was in no way inderior to Blake, and yet no art could be less political.

Where do I start? Just as minority groups have been discriminated and oppressed in our history, so have the poor been locked out of opportunities. Can't there be just one area -- the arts -- where lack of money is not an issue?

Yes... minorities have been discriminated against... but does this eliminate them from art? One might argue that the poor and abused African Americans have produced what well may be the greatest body of music of the 20th century: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coletrane, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Chuck Berry, etc... Because of the invention of sound recording the line between the educated "classical" musician and folk/popular music has been greatly blurred... which the "classical" musicians themselves recognize (Ravel, Debussy, Kurt Weill, Bela Bartok, Paul Hindemith, Stravinsky, Shostakovitch, Philip Glass, etc... all drew ideas from Jazz, Folk Music, and even Rock. Money will always be an issue... but I don't make the assumption that the musician who lacked the education at the Paris Conservatory or the artist who could never attend Yale but instead worked as an illustrator or comic-book artist is inherently inferior.

AuntShecky
12-07-2010, 05:29 PM
Thank you Stlukesguild for your replies and thanks to all who responded to my initial question/opinion that I believe that sometimes, but not always, excessive spending on the arts in the middle of a recession can be insensitive toward the plight of the poor.

It was my fault more than any that of any repliers that the initial topic veered off onto a discussion of whether the poor should have as much right to access to the arts as the rich do. As a result of that subtopic, I've done some reading of both print and online articles and will post a separate thread on this specific topic in this very forum.

stlukesguild
12-07-2010, 08:39 PM
Aunt Shecky... rather than focusing upon the cost of artistic production as impacting the access of art to the poor and middle class, I would focus upon education. The focus upon math and science and reading and the standardize test in our public schools at the expense of the arts has resulted in a population whose only familiarity with the arts is centered upon that which is marketed by the mass media. Fellow teachers who majored in literacy, math or science have been given sign-on bonuses, higher salaries, and even government subsidies to offset their student loans if they teach in a poverty-laden district... yet I am eligible for no such thing in spite of laboring in the same district for some 14 years... because art is not valued.

How many declared excitement at the fact that the Harry Potter novels at least had kids reading? But reading what? Only that which has been marketed relentlessly... just as the music the students listen to and the clothes they all want are equally marketed relentlessly. A solid education in the arts should not so much present the notion that this or that artist or musician or writer or genre or style is superior to all others (which just leads to a sense of resentment and feeling that this is not for me) but rather it should present the student with alternatives. In other words, a solid education in music (for example) should not ignore rock, and pop, and rap... but there should be a recognition that these are well supported by the mass media... and as a result the solid music education should present students with alternatives... classical, jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk, non-Western music, etc...

We have the same shortcomings with our institutions of higher education. Our universities insist that all students take a minimum number or required courses in math, science, history, etc... (Good solid pragmatic courses necessary for the pragmatic adult)... but again the arts are largely ignored... often reduced to mere electives. Loans and grants available to the student majoring in science or mathematics or business are far more prevalent than loans and grants to the major in the arts. Even more important, the increasing cost of higher education makes such an education less and less accessible to the poor and middle class... and as a result, it makes certain forms of art less and less accessible for the simple reason that every art form or artistic genre is like a language and demands a degree of understanding of the "vocabulary" the "rules of grammar", the history, etc...

AuntShecky
12-08-2010, 06:38 PM
I'm almost finished with the beginning post of a new thread on the Clemente Course, which covers some of your
educational concerns. I will try to finish it and post it tomorrow. If not, ASAP.

thanks!

AuntShecky
12-10-2010, 01:57 PM
Here's the thread to the spin-off discussion:
http://www.online-literature.com/forums/showthread.php?p=985814#post985814