Monday, 13 July 2009

You can keep them for the birds and bees?

A new working paper from two Harvard Business School academics has as its title ‘It Is Okay for Artists to Make Money… No, Really, It’s Okay.’ (I picked up on this from Ian David Moss’s very lively and useful blog Createquity, which I heartily recommend.)

The paper describes how ‘an inclination to take offence often attends the close juxtaposition of art and commerce’, making reference to ‘a lively response to ideas we didn’t write and meanings we didn’t intend’, which is precisely what I was writing about just last Tuesday. It then explores what the authors, Robert D. Austin and Lee Devin, say are three fallacies:
- Art is a luxury, an indulgence
- Yeah, but that’s not art, it’s not any good
- Commerce Dominates and Corrupts Art, and Subverts its Purpose.

Much of this is interesting, and there are some nice apercus along the way – 'art is a behaviour', anyone? - but rather old ground. You can apply their argument not just to commerce as in the sale of art, but also ‘marketing of the arts’, and the drive to increase participation levels and the various views on that. Where it gets potentially rather useful, I think, is their conceptualisation of the inhibiting dynamic at play. This comes in the form of a handy 2x2 matrix.

Their basic provocation is that too much of the world – artists and potential audience alike – is so obsessed with avoiding quadrant B, that they fall into quadrant C, and thereby miss the chance of moving from quadrant C to A. (Don’t ask me why the Junk quadrant doesn’t even deserve a D!)

I would want, naturally, to caveat and broaden some of their terms – marketed and commercial, for instance, need to refer to more than simple purchase transactions - but I find their conclusion, whilst not flawless, rather rousing:

‘Our culture has many flaws, one of them, perhaps, the movement of art away from the center of life. But we change things by reconceiving, by including what is in a larger conception of what can be. The supposed malign influence of commerce on art will not go away because marginalized artists cry “How dare you!” or when people object to high values placed on art outcomes. It will go away when artists and non-artists find ways to include what is in their worldviews, and to combine what is with a view that includes art understood and valued in many different ways.

In a better world, art will command fair prices, best-in-the-world jazz musicians will
make as much as partners in consulting firms, and jobs up and down the value chain around such activities will pay a living wage. To fulfill the vision of art as a humanizing force in the world, we need to make the market for art work better, not separate the art world from markets and commercial value.’

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