Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The Market and its Discontents

In the United States, "monetizing" an idea or a book or a sporting event or an art form seems to be far more important than in many other cultures.  And this attitude is spreading.

Today morning I had a sobering reminder of this aspect of market-driven culture.  I received a mass email from the website associated with the book "The Five Love Languages".  I had read this book many years ago and found it somewhat interesting.  I don't remember if I went to the website.  I must have and it must have asked for my email address for me to access and read certain articles.

(As an aside, I believe that most books offering advice of some sort can be usually condensed to a couple of pages without any loss in information imparted.)

I don't think I am the only one to feel disillusioned and manipulated when a popular book, recommended to me by a friend or a family member, turns out to be a means, and not the end, for the author or the artist.

On the other hand, I feel glad when a piece of art or a book is an end in itself.  There is purity in that.

I felt dirty after getting that email, and promptly unsubscribed from the mailing list.  I did not read the email very carefully.  It was probably asking me to visit the website and buy something.  That is perhaps the love language the author understands.

There are very few artists or literary people or philosophers left in the US who are unconcerned with making money from their creativity and intellect.  It is a tragedy.  The greatest artists in human history did not operate from a desire for popularity or financial success.  Their passion for their art or ideas was too great to keep within themselves.  Marx or Wittgenstein or Bach did not seek to book yet another hall with staggered ticketing prices for their "performance".

In that sense, I think the modern fetish for affluence and comfort is a disease.  It makes for poverty of spirit.  An artist trying to make money from his art sooner or later becomes a sell-out.

An artist must be content with a spartan life, to devote himself to his calling and not try to please the gallery so that they will throw money at him.

What is happening these days is that, by fluke or effort or by a stroke of genius, a work of art attains popularity.  Because it expressed something in a right way.  And then, quickly, the "instinct of the vulture" descends upon those associated with that artwork and they seek to cash in on the popularity in one way or the other.  Maybe via a sequel, by producing and marketing merchandise associated with the artwork,

..., or via having the post office to print photos of 'Spiderman 2" on its tickets. It used to be that great artists and cultural symbols were honored on a postage stamp.  It is a sign of the times that a mass market cartoon character's big-budget movie's sequel's advertisement is on the stamp that I bought yesterday.

There is something going on in the world today which is making the thirst for money more frenetic, frenzied and farcical.  And in this melee, the culture is getting degraded.  "What sells is what will be produced" is the logic of the market.

But "what sells" is a wrong parameter for the arts.  An art is a furthering of human creativity and the horizons of the human mind.  To do market research ("what they want") and then produce a work of art is absolutely the worst way to be creative.