There is never enough money in the arts. Equally problematic, the money we do have is not always used very efficiently. In the United States, most arts funding outside of ticket sales comes through philanthropy, whether by individual donors, private foundations, or nonprofit advocacy groups. While individual donors don’t usually have the clout to sway an entire sector, the larger arts funders can and do. As such, they shoulder greater responsibility for the financial inefficiencies that affect the arts—not out of malice, but simply because many a well-meaning initiative has relied on accepted wisdom that isn’t actually all that wise. Now, there are indisputably organizations conducting innovative work. But doing philanthropy well is really damn hard, and the bar could certainly stand to be raised.
Philanthropy is about 90% how and 10% what—it’s not enough to have an endowment and good intentions. (more…)
Young Entrepreneurs Forum 2012, CC by US Embassy, on Flickr
We live at a time that prizes entrepreneurship above all else, and this is bad for art. Not that entrepreneurs are out to destroy the arts, it’s just that artistic and business innovation are fundamentally antagonistic. Yes, entrepreneurs have unquestionably created value for the arts, but the actual business is always one step removed from the actual art. At best, entrepreneurship provides stuff for artists to sell and then gets the hell out of the way. At worst, entrepreneurship turns art and artists into disposable commodities.
Unfortunately, our societal love affair with entrepreneurship has confused this relationship. Suddenly all artists are expected to be business innovators, as if coming up with a marketing plan were the self-evident first step in the artistic process. (more…)
I read a great book recently, Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, which is essentially this fantastic global theory of poverty and progress that works flawlessly across all of history and the world. One of their key concepts is creative destruction, the idea that any innovation that improves living standards (e.g. printing press) destroys what came before (e.g. demand for hand-copying), which leads to conflict because some other group will have an interest in maintaining the status quo (e.g. scribes).
That’s also basically the story of experimentalism in music, so I began to wonder how far the parallels go. Well, upon reflection, it seems to me that there’s a biologically determined limit to this process as it applies to art, and this inherently creates a limit on experimentalism itself. We’ve reached that limit. It’s no longer possible to be an experimental artist in the true sense of the term. (more…)
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Hans Abbing’s Why Are Artists Poor?, which formed an important source in my last two articles. Abbing is an economist and a visual artist, and he tackles the broad question of artist poverty from the perspective of both disciplines, trying to filter out the biases and myths that color traditional interpretations.
As a part of his discussion, Abbing brings up the question of what constitutes a professional artist. According to economists, professionals are people who earn some non-negligible portion of their living via their professional activities. This definition works for a lot of the activities humans do, but it’s problematic in the arts. (more…)
The challenges of learning composition in academia
I’ve always said that I learned despite my education and not because of it, and after my master’s degree I decided to put my money where my mouth was and not pursue a PhD—much to my relief, the commissions and composing continued anyway. A few months ago I read a great article in Slate by William Pannapacker that really struck home for me. The basic premise was not that new: universities are making themselves irrelevant in the humanities, arts, and sciences. What was refreshing, however, was that this wasn’t an anti-intellectual rant, it was just an honest examination of what higher education as an institution is trying to do and how it thinks it should fit into society. So what if your goal is to be the best composer possible and to have your music heard by other people who are interested in similar types of music? Should you get a degree in composition? (more…)