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Art and not-so-filthy lucre

Could capitalism become an artist’s best friend? Masses of young emerging artists and newly defunded ones may be hoping so.

Social media and Internet platforms are offering artists the option of flying solo to raise capital and produce their projects, whether by need or preference. With beckoning crowd-source sites, artists are beholden to neither patron nor state. However they must still sell their project ideas to many small investors, using old-fashioned entrepreneurial and business skills.

With opportunities in grants and state commissions below drought stage and fiercely competitive, platforms such as Kickstarter seem almost divinely ordained. They allow competitors to strut their stuff on a gigantic, common stage limited only by imagination and taste. Anyone with a Facebook account may find a band or indie filmmaker rapping away at their electronic doorstep for contributions at this very moment.

Because pledges can be tiny and profits aren’t an issue for Kickstarter, many of their 4.9 million contributors had never invested in an art project before. It’s not so intimidating to become an art supporter when it costs as little as a dollar.

Less known sites using crowd-source funding include Go4funding, IndieGoGo and Rockethub, with varying opportunities for individuals and businesses. Projects may exchange letters of thanks, personal performances, downloads, prints or a board in exchange for start-up funds.

Musician and videographer Jack Conte created “Patreon” to meet his own needs and for other artists. Conte notes the “demi-celebrities” dotting the web who haven’t made a dime from their considerable efforts.

“We’re talking about people with enough of a following on YouTube to fill a basketball stadium who still have a part-time job because you can’t monetize digital assets readily online,” Conte is quoted in Forbes.

“Patreon” is his hybrid-revenue model that blends crowd funding with an updated version of patronage. Supporters aid a specific creator by pledging a “micro-payment” for each project they produce, up to a dollar limit each month.

The sheer joy of sharing in artistic ventures and anticipating the results moves many of these small donors to action. Others contribute because they believe in a specific cause or message of the art, music, literature, film or products. However Kickstarter and some others limit charitable campaigns and ban endorsement of politicians, pornography and “hate speech” (not defined).

Contemporary artists who produce only shock and political attack pieces will have to recast their message or edit with a chainsaw to use Kickstarter and its brothers. Traditional studio funding is also turned on its head with leaner, greener films and an emphasis on social statements and community efforts.

Crowd sourcing is a popular effort and so reflects average taste in its biggest hauls. If that seems like a problem, pause and consider twerking, Miley Cyrus and the Gravediggaz – bestowed on the populace from gold platters on high. Could it truly get any worse than what the geniuses at Universal, Sony or Warner Brothers have coughed up recently?

Cultural influence by artists is considered so profound that entire theories of economics are based solely by observing the contemporary art world. Authors Pascal Gielen and Paul De Bruyne posit that youthfulness, flexibility, high-energy, lack of contracts and the “allure of freedom” are now converted into a “standard production model” for the culture industry. They claim this “post-Henry Ford work model” is very appealing to youth and currently extends into global, neoliberal markets.

The perennially brilliant Camille Paglia concerned herself with this subject in her essay “How Capitalism Can Save Art.” Not surprisingly she has an entirely different take on this than almost anyone else. Paglia’s complaints aren’t concerned with the ultimate fate of capitalism or our current economic implosions. Rather, she mourns the ideological disconnect between contemporary artists and the majority of their audience, leading to vast public apathy over fine art.

Paglia suggests giving more respect to the material production of art and for industrial arts and design, which earn a living for artists, workers and manufacturers. Refusing to attack capitalism as inherently evil, she reminds us that the system ended a “stranglehold of hereditary aristocracies,” raised the standard of living and boosted social progress across the world.

Joseph Sunde tosses his hat another direction in the same ring – hailing capitalism and a century of relative prosperity for freeing up time, energy and resources for everyman to create.

As innovation and means of collaboration accelerate, Sunde insists, “Folks are continuing to discover new ways of doing more with less.”

With all these tools and leisure time, artistic adventures are “closer to common fingers” than they’ve ever been before.

Aaron Belz

Poet Aaron Belz concocted a delightful scheme to earn money and publicize poetry by selling it on Craigslist.

The Atlantic covered the results when he placed this hilarious ad: “Quotidian observations available at standard rate of $15/hour; occasional verse at slightly higher rate of $17/hour. Incomprehensible garbage $25/hour. Angst extra.”

A thick-skinned customer, Lane Severson, requested an “insult poem” and here are a few lines of the resulting “Lane Severson, Bankrupt Anglican”:

Now a mere pawn in the house of bishops
He can manage neither a coherent theology
Nor back-to-back-to-back pushups

Pretty funny, and I’m certain it has the entire nation wondering about the previously unknown patron, Lane Severson. I’m especially impressed by Aaron’s humility in offering his poetry at not much more than minimum wage, willing to let others judge its value in a purely economic platform. Craigslist is where the nation bargain hunts and leaves its unwanted and cast-off items. Fortunately Belz has found some success generating income and attention to his craft in that strange land.

Whether capitalism can “rescue” art I couldn’t say, but I’m absolutely certain it won’t destroy it. Of all economic models, capitalism seems least likely to restrict artistic content and most likely to extend it beyond entitled classes. This is especially so for women and minorities who weren’t exactly overrepresented in classical European literature and art.

Vulgarity that conservatives hate or the mindless, trite commercialism academics detest isn’t forced on us by abstract economic forces. Money doesn’t compromise or corrupt anyone without their cooperation and control. It’s something we either tolerate, enjoy or is an expression of our true natures.

Money isn’t the problem, after all – we are.

Thanks to Forbes.com; Micah Mattix; The Guadian.com; Joseph Sunde with Acton.org; Tony Barrett, “Theory and Art Criticism”; Camille Paglia; WSJ; Irit Rogoff; Pascal Gielen and Paul De Bruyne.