OUR COLUMNIST MIKE REFLECTS ON ART AND CAPITALISM:
‘I am going to take this time to write about something that explains why art and capitalism don’t mix well. I believe art has historically been a conservative force in culture. It has only been since it has been coupled with capitalism that is has been seduced into the idea that art is “avant-garde, cutting-edge, new, and the work of genius”.
Art has most often served the purpose of visually exhibiting to it’s culture what the culture values, what it thinks is so important to the culture that humans will labour to create imagery to remind the populace of its choice of values. This unites the society and creates a sense of shared commonality.
Capitalism does not strive for the same ends. Capitalisms aims are growth (profit-making and market share) and efficiency regarding the means of production (an abstraction that results in profit for investors and struggle for those who actually produce). This tension can be good for a society of properly regulated (which in most advanced industrial and post-industrial (whatever that actually means…) societies it is not.
Art is now in a place that is trapped between the unholy coupling of capitalism and it’s whorish adjunct called marketing, where the aim is to sell, sell, sell and artists are forced to become a “brand” that can be bought and sold, with the power of art to cement and/or challenge society’s values being greatly diminished.
The question facing artists today is: what is the purpose of art today?
I believe art today should address issues of either what is crucial for the local community remember (i.e. it’s values), and/or what are the issues that are global in nature (i.e. what are global/universal values). I see many artists retreating into the realm of self-identity or obscure personal memory. My response is: who cares about you? You are not that interesting. What have you observed about your locality or the world, and how are you presenting your observations and ruminations?
Capitalism wants efficiency, but art is not always efficient. The career of an artist is often wandering and contradictory, as the artist faces his/her own biases of specific culture and ponders the implications of this observation regarding a global culture.
What are the values of the emerging global culture? Artists today are working in an exciting and open time. It’s a shame many seem to sell out to marketeering and market share. The buyers of this type of art are a very small slice of humanity, and often (as the original article outlines) use art as a cloak to cover ill-gotten gains or simply to present a facade of societal concern when they are simply after a veneer of culture to cover their exploitation of the majority and their ruthlessness.
Are these the values we want to espouse as a globally aware species? If not, what values do we want, and how will artists encapsulate what should be valued? If artists don’t take this on in a truly significant manner, then who will outline what is truly valuable to humanity?
Just a half-formed thought.
I’d appreciate any feedback…’