Money for art’s sake
Our free-stuff obsession will soon leave us with only popcorn flicks and The Voice caterwauling for company. Then will we be happy?
It’s a weird paradox, but as tech makes it easier for people to create, it also removes their ability to make a living from it. You can make what we used to call “an LP” on a tablet, your laptop has the same processing power as the computers used to make Jurassic Park’s FX, and a decent DSLR can, with a bit of post-production work on the same laptop, produce something you could show in a cinema without feeling embarrassed. Well, no more embarrassed than if it was an Adam Sandler movie.
That’s not the end of the paradoxes, either. We all want great music and movies but we bitterly resent having to pay for them. Hence the boom first in piracy, where everything was free, to streaming services, where everything is near enough to free for it not to annoy us overly, mixed with a bit of light piracy when it turns out Spotify doesn’t have a song, Netflix isn’t yet showing HBO’s Silicon Valley and no, believe it or not, Gravity is not on Amazon Prime Instant.
The end result is a mad mix of art to be enjoyed at home and on the bus that costs next to nothing, paired with location-specific art that costs hefty sums to access. The price of gig and cinema tickets continues to swim upwards as people queue to pay 25 bucks for generic blockbusters post-processed into 3D, or anything up to $600 to see the Stones.
The thing is, I get the feeling that state of affairs will only last until virtual reality means we don’t have to be physically present to enjoy those experiences – Shuhei Yoshida’s looking forward to that back over the page.
The thing is, this raises a kind of nightmare prospect: once beloved and cossetted artistes of all kinds, reduced to poverty. Soon, if we continue to not pay (much) for art, you won’t be able to walk down the road without seeing George Clooney begging. David Bowie will have to go door-to-door offering to clean windows. Keith Richards will need to subsist on Uhu glue and Mercury Cider; so no change there.
Well, okay, I’m joking. Rich and famous artists and creative types don’t suffer much. Yes, they may have to have their toilets made of silver instead of gold, but they battle on. That’s why we don’t care about acquiring the “goods” sold by artists for little or no money, whereas we rightly feel guilty about stealing things – Lord knows I do – or paying $20 for clothes that have cost 50c for an orphan to make in a factory with uranium ceiling tiles.
But most artists and creative types are neither rich nor famous – Lord knows I’m not – and never will be. They nonetheless need to make a living, and as long as they do, the diversity of music and film available to us will continue to grow.
The truth is, however, that they are not. That’s why most cinemas are stuffed with the type of blockbuster that we all claim not to like – generic, lowest common denominator horseshit with explodey things and dialogue that’s so heavy on “quips” it makes you want to kill every member of the cast and writing team with a spoon.
That’s why our big venues are full of The Voice winners and elderly “prestige” rock bands, cranking out the hits for the billionth time and reminding us all of our own horrific and inexorable decline towards infirmity and death. That trend makes us all poorer spiritually even if, admittedly, it makes us richer in terms of actual money.