market worth

It’s obvious the performing arts – like sport, like fashion, like everything else – are becoming more and more professional, that is to say, commercial. Everywhere, even in the so-called alternative circuits, an all-out effort is on to utilize the contemporary commercial model: develop brand, platform and image, situate oneself as product somewhere in the largely virtual landscape, and above all: network. After all, the commercial model is basically a question of positioning. Where am I in relation to my colleagues, and what can I do to be seen or heard in the marketplace?
“Cultural Enterprise Entrepreneurs are cultural change agents and resourceful visionaries who generate revenue from a cultural activity. Their innovative solutions result in economically sustainable cultural enterprises that enhance livelihoods and create cultural value for both creative producers and consumers of cultural services and products.”
This entrepreneurial relationship between producer and consumer means that inevitably the consumer is the ultimate arbiter of success; and that in the world of entrepreneurship, success does not necessarily come in tandem with artistic achievement. In fact it has little to do with it. Success is equated more with aggressive salesmanship and calculation. For example, a sure-fire strategy for the so-called cutting-edge artist remains the century-old idea of provocation. We can see this today not only in the arts, but also in sport, fashion and even politics. Push a button and get a response; strike a nerve and get an even bigger one.
What we make seems not as important as finding a buyer for it, or in the case of the performing arts, finding a producer and an audience. Unfortunately with the enormous explosion of artists of all kinds in the past thirty years it’s increasingly a buyer’s market everywhere.
In the Netherlands where I live the concept of government support for the arts has gone from its postwar origin as a sponsor of the arts irrespective of public opinion, through more recent policies using the arts as a political tool, and now to funding only the arts that prove themselves popular in the marketplace. The implication now is that funding should foster and reward commercialism, with the end result the rapid disappearance of art that has no commercial value. For the performing artist, this means either adapting to the entrepreneurial model and developing a careerist mentality, or risking isolation and obscurity by pursuing ones vision irregardless of the wishes of the market.
Tied in to this is also the larger puzzle of a so-called artistic standard in contemporary society. What is good or bad art, and do these terms even matter anymore? Is relevancy determined by public, media or by market forces? How is it possible to overcome the unfortunate situation we now seem to be in where both artist and public are ever more conscious of the seemingly arbitrary nature of aesthetic decision-making, and the dubious role of the media in perpetuating both newer as well as older traditions?
What is the point of making art? To make a living? We do have to seriously question our motives and our expectations, not least so that we don’t end up unsuccessful, over-aged and bitter. How can an artist, no matter what discipline, develop work independently?
Maybe good and bad need redefinition. The uniqueness of art products, in all their forms, is already a special quality in this packaged reality we now live in. Maybe art’s relevance is personal rather than public. Personal to the artist, and to the individual viewer. And it might not make any money.
Just in case it doesn’t, we might want to find out what could be rewarding in being an artist on the longer-term and not necessarily measure it by someone else’s standards or by our paycheck. We may have to consider ourselves as having a practice rather than a career. A practice that develops the work, and the person making it as well. This may not be an economically feasible proposition, but it has the potential to be much more rewarding than money. Though they might be hard to find, ask any self-respecting starving artist – after you’ve fed them a hot meal of course.
We may not live in the days of the lonely and heroic originals anymore, but that doesn’t mean they can’t set an example we could ponder, redefine and adjust to our own times.

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3 Responses to market worth

  1. Such an inspiring post this is, Rob! Thanks for sharing your thoughts over here 😉 Hugs from Rio!!!

  2. Pingback: Valor de mercado (via Mirror to the Flower) « NOVA REDE

  3. Pingback: [textos] “Valor de mercado”: parceria com o blog do artista norte-americano Rob List « ctrl+alt+dança

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