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?

Australian T3 - - OPINION -

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.

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