I posted this on facebook in a minor fit of frustration and thought I’d extrapolate on it a little here. Here’s the original post:
Aren’t there things of value left in this world that aren’t quantifiable? I just saw a postcard from an arts organization that defended the value of the arts by citing economic figures (number of people engaged, number of people employed by arts orgs, dollar value of not-for-profit industry, etc.).
Whatever happened to the joy of hearing a child sing a song that was taught to them by someone they loved? —— Mr. Economist, measure that. Intergenerational love, oral tradition, history, individual voice and story, identity, all wrapped up in a singular moment that has ZERO MARKET VALUE. That’s the kind of art I want to fill the world.
Shortly after I posted the update, one of my friends left this link in the comments to an A.O. Scott article about the arts and money.
All opinions aside I think the understanding of art needs to be revisited as the cultures of patronage and commoditization have lead to a narrow view of what art actually is. In either of those views art must have an artifact (that is content), and that artifact must have some perceived value that is quantifiable. In the realm of patronage the value is quantified often before the art is created as the patron supports the artist so that they may create work (or a specific work as in a commission). While in the commoditized understanding, the market determines the value of the art, and here we see another level of stratification. Take visual art and the various markets it might engage with – everything from advertising to the fine art gallery.
But what about this:
When she was 18, Johnny Cash gave his daughter Rosanne a list of 100 essential country songs. Were those songs passed on out of commercial necessity? Or so that Rosanne had a greater understanding of the music she found herself interested in? A music that is part of a particular tradition, that no doubt has been affected by the culture of the market so prevalent in America, but is essentially rooted in the stories and experiences of a particular people. By learning this music Rosanne would undoubtedly be learning about its people as well.
Is this art? The bond of love evident between a father and daughter sharing in the singing of a culturally relevant song (that is something that they both know AND is of interest to both of them).
I guess the question I’m really trying to ask here is this: In a culture that is so intertwined if not rooted in the market is there any room for creative endeavors that don’t engage with that market? What of the song someone writes only for a friend, the painting someone paints just for themselves, or the dance that is never videotaped, let alone posted or sold. Do any of these have a place in today’s culture? Can the creative endeavor simply be in response to a particular inspiration and not depend on or desire a broader audience or platform?
I ask these questions in the midst of planning my summer touring schedule, having submitted numerous grant applications, and promoted many a self-production, and continuing on this path of being a “professional tap dancer”…but I wonder for the sake of all those whom I have met that say “I can dance, but not like you, you’re good” or “I’m a scientist, I’m not creative” that if we continue down the road we’re on we will end up with a self-imposed culture of stratification, in which everyone is so specialized and defined by the work that we do, we won’t even know how to talk to one another. And that, my friends, would be bad.