Archive for March, 2011

There has been a bit of discussion on television of late about the state of Art versus entertainment.  On the Bill Maher show Real Time, Bill stated his position that art should not be publicly funded, that art should not be subsidized, and that if people wanted to buy art, then the value of art should be placed on what people are willing to pay and support from their own finances.  Maher’s argument is that it is up to the individual and private society to set the valuations of art.  But this is a flawed argument because it presumes that societal taste is unbiased.  But here is the major flaw – while entertainment is by its nature populist, changing and catering to audience tastes as demographics demand and aspiring to reach its widest audience (a tv show format changes, those changes being predicated by audience choice and tastes) art must not be influenced by commercial needs.  Art must be differentiated from entertainment precisely because it is NOT predicated by populist sentiment but rather by the vision of the artist as individual.  The fundamental difference between art and entertainment is that art expresses the view of the artist, whereas entertainment reinforces the views of the audience.  And so art prices cannot be set by populism because then it ceases to be art and becomes entertainment!

In order for art to have any meaning, it must be publicly funded.  Art is expensive to produce.  Materials, labour, venues, exhibition and distribution all cost money.  This money must come from somewhere, but if it came entirely from pre-sales, then artists would be forced to construct work that would secure good presale rates.  Their work, then, would by the nature of sales, become repetitive, conventional and safe (look at Hollywood’s reliance on sequels, prequels, remakes and ‘homage’ carbon copies) and if the art world too became subject to market tastes, it too would become ‘safe.’

I’m not saying that Bill’s argument is in the wrong spirit.  I do think that the individual has an obligation to support the arts too, but we don’t support the arts with our money, we support the arts with our participation in arts culture.  Support the arts by consuming art – support the arts by going to museums, theatre, performance art, concerts and lectures.  It is through the consumption of art (that has been financed independently from private investment) that arts cultures flourish.  It is only when public money is spent on art that is not consumed, that is shelved rather than being viewed or exhibited, that art becomes a waste of money.


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