Each year it seems the debate over how much we should pay for different art forms increases. Ever since the rise of Napster, we’ve heard the constant fear of how people will devalue music because of how easily they can get it for free. Of course, those same notes were played at the rise of the cassette (and the video cassette) when people were making their own mixtapes as well.
I don’t feel the need to rehash the actual debate. Not a bit. You know what it is. All art, right now, is in the process of being digitized (if it hasn’t been digitized already), which makes it easily to be consumed, but also makes it easier to be “stolen”. Even more than that, the fear increases that there is a decrease in the perceived value of an art form. If you’re not aware of this debate, I’m not entirely certain how you are able to read this blog from under that rock…
I’ve debated the concept myself for just about as long, both internally as well as with others. And, especially now that I am a creator/purveyor of art, the debate is one that has been quite difficult for me to pick a side for.
I love art. I have Netflix so I have a plethora of movies to choose from to watch at any given time for one flat rate. Same with Hulu. We have an Amazon Music subscription, again, so we can choose to listen to any number of musical artists at any given moment. I use Pandora (or Songza, or Spotify, or….) in the situation that I don’t really want to choose any specific artist and I just want to hear some music of a specific style or emotion. I pay for Kindle Unlimited, again so I can have a flat rate to ingest as many books as I could possibly want (or be able) to read at any given time. For the options not available on that platform, I head out to the library. (there are a couple other artforms I could go into…but those are part of a different discussion that might come up later in the post…no promises).
I very rarely, if ever, actually buy a movie, book, or album anymore. Not only does it not make fiscal sense, but honestly, it just doesn’t make much for other sense as well. There are very few items in this world that I want to ingest frequently enough for me to own it. Even if I really really really dig it, I’ll probably only read/watch/listen to it several times on repeat and then forget about it until years later when I want to relive that moment of my past.
For many in the art-producing world today, I am the example of devaluing art. My appreciation of an artform, in their estimation, is only as long as its in front of me, and isn’t actually worth any actual amount of money, even if I put a small monthly fee toward it.
Many artists today are completely afraid of the digital revolution because of how it makes their art seem trivialized, falling in between the cracks of everything else that’s produced, and no longer worth the sticker price they’ve developed for it. Of course…there’s a good place here for discussion about how much of that sticker price actually goes to the artists…I’m not going there at the moment.
No, actually, I want to take things in an entirely different direction. You see…for the longest time, I battled the idea of ever actually charging for my books. I believe my books have value, I believe they are worth something, but I also found myself more interested in getting people to read my books than I was interested in fighting price points and determining an actual dollar amount to my book’s value. The idea of someone not reading one of my books because they couldn’t afford the five bucks (regardless of what reason they have for not being able to afford it) seemed the antithesis of art to me. Art, without someone to enjoy it, is nothing. Art, almost by definition, requires someone to view it, to hear it, to read it, to be aware of it, otherwise it might as well have never been created.
And with that pseudo-definition, one could almost go as far as to say that art is owned by the people, not by the person who crafted it.
But that’s where my real question begins to come into play. Ownership. If I sell you my book, what am I actually selling to you? You don’t have the right to change the book in any way. You don’t own the rights to the characters or the story. Many people would like you to believe that you don’t really have the right to give it on to anyone else (by many debated definitions anyways…but luckily that’s never actually held up in court).
No…when you purchase an artform, you are purchasing one simple thing. The right to enjoy it.
Even I recognize how goofy of a sentiment that is. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. Books cost money to print, CDs to burn, and movies to print,burn,whatever. There is definitely the cost of production involved in general. And the artist has the right to require that payment to be reimbursed in some way. I’m not debating it at all. But when you sell a piece of art, none of that really matters, you’re selling the right to enjoy the artform. At least at concerts or readings or theaters, there’s also the right to be in a location with a limited group of people for a special experience, but when you look at the digitization of art, well…that experience isn’t all that special for the end user, outside of whatever they bring to the table.
Does that mean art isn’t worth anything? Absolutely not. In fact, one of the things worth most in this world should be that sense of enjoyment. There is so much about this world that we just plain don’t enjoy. Artists can take us out of that through their art. It’s worth money.
In fact, it’s worth so much money, that I believe we need to reconsider how we think about art.
Before I get to that…one more thing. People who pay for art actually get a cool label to themselves. Patron of the Arts. There aren’t many other items that you can pay money for in which you get a label attached to you because of. You’re not going to be a Patron of the Sodas because of how much you love Diet Coke. You aren’t the McDonald’s Backer because of how many Big Macs you eat in a year. But, technically, you buy one song, go to one movie, and you can call yourself a Patron of the Arts.
Patron, coming from the Latin patronus, meaning protector/defender of clients.
If you support the arts, you aren’t just buying a CD. You are, in effect, defending the artform against being lost completely. This comes from a time in which the arts were not as popular, in which if it weren’t for the money and efforts of the few, many artforms might have been lost forever.
In which art wasn’t purchased, but funded.
Art is so important to our backbone as humans, it shouldn’t be considered a commodity. It should be considered a utility. We need art. It’s part of our lifeblood. Music lifts the soul. Movies/Books allow for an escapism not available through many other means. The visual arts can quite literally boost your spirits simply through beauty. We wear art on our bodies, we make our bodies into art.
Art is what defined us, creates our culture, is so important to what we are as human beings that we are willing to fight for it, defend it, become its patron.
Yet, art is being trivialized. Not through the idea that people think that music isn’t worth paying for, but through the fact that art is being sold just a few aisles away from diapers. Art is sold (and unfortunately many times produced) like it was created on an assembly line, no different from the other products on the market.
If there’s anything the artists should be complaining about today, it’s not that people are stealing their art. No, in fact, theft of art just showcases that need to ingest art that much more fully. People want art even if they can’t afford it. Heck, who doesn’t know the face of the Mona Lisa? And what percentage of people have actually paid for the right to enjoy it? What about that dirty joke your uncle likes to tell every Christmas? You think the guy who came up with it gets royalties every time your Uncle makes his wife hit him because of it?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pay for art. I’m not stating that I believe it is okay to pirate software, movies, music, or anything.
What I AM saying is that I believe we have gone so far from the actual appreciation of art that it has become nothing more than another worthless piece of junk that we can put on our shelves to show off to our friends, along with our collection of beanie babies and cuckoo clocks (also artforms, I realize…but …well…tchotchkes seem to be even worse off than most artforms nowadays).
Part of that can be attributed to the artist, creating for money, instead of creating to make beauty. I’ll definitely give it that. Art is a viable source of the income for the first time in history, why do you think there are so many artists today, so many of your friends in a band, or making movies, or…you know…writing books.
I think all of us, as a culture, need to rethink art. Myself, most definitely, included. Maybe a redefining of art is necessary as well. Does Bieber=Beatle? Kurosawa=Wood? Fitzgerald=Meyer? I hardly think so, but the question truly comes to play, does being less than the best mean you aren’t creating art as well?
I don’t have the answer.
But I can say that there is much worse going on with art than people stealing it. In fact, stealing in the digital world just means that more people are enjoying art…and again…that’s kind of the point of art, right?
That being said, if you steal art, you definitely aren’t supporting the artist, meaning that there’s always the possibility that they won’t have the ability to create more art.
Be a patron of the arts. Whether it’s through the purchasing of an item, or direct funding, or…even more valuable to artists than anything else…spreading the word. A good review wouldn’t hurt nowadays either 😉
And that was a way too long rant… Hope you all have a good one!