Friday, August 12, 2016

Art for Art's Sake, Money for Chrissakes

There used to be a simple axiom .
Become the best at whatever you do, and the world is your oyster.
But just like most of those old-time axioms in this day and age, they’ve turned out to smell like week-old fish.
Now, if you take photographs for a living and don’t work at a Penney’s photo studio, the brass ring for steady and lucrative employment has always been cashing checks from “National Geographic” or “Sports Illustrated.”
To borrow the song lyric, that was the tops, that was the Tower of Pisa.
But somehow, being the best doesn’t seem to matter much anymore.
Recently it was reported that SI just canned its entire photography staff. And Nat Geo has, for years, employed only freelance – that’s paid per assignment – shutterbugs.
Welcome to America, 2016, where being the best means that if you’re willing to put up with enough garbage, red tape and empty promises, you might, every so often, get a decent – but rarely the best – paycheck.
The art of photography, along with all of the creative arts, have officially been turned over to the bean counters.
And that, true believers, is never a good thing.
Oh sure, folks are still willing to pay top dollar for doctors, quarterbacks and iphones.
But the arts?
Nah, we’ll wait for the DVD.
So it don’t matter if you paint like Picasso, write like Hemingway or snap that shutter like Ansel Adams.
It’s bottom line time, and that can only mean something positive if you’re the guy signing the check.
If you’re on the artistic, creative side of things, I believe you’d best get used to the bottom line. Or, worse yet, the unemployment line.
Bean counters, you see, don’t give a dump about how good something is painted, written or photographed, as long as it’s done with a minimum of cost and a maximum of speed.
And since the quality of the product is not the primary goal, if said product isn’t produced quickly and cheaply, they’ll simply seek out the cheapest and fastest producer – and make due.
As for the consumer, they’ll see a high price tag and think they’re getting quality.
But the definition of quality in this day and age is more than a tad different than in days gone by.
A quality product based on price and speed is in complete contrast to what used to pass for a quality product.
Somehow, I get the feeling that Michelangelo wasn’t told to shake a leg when he was parallel to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
And Tolstoy was hardly staring at a ticking clock when he was writing “War and Peace.”
But realistically, it’s been forever since folks really gave a hoot about true art.
To the everyday consumer, true art is something you find in museums and thick books in the library.
I can’t imagine someone telling Warhol to hurry up with that soup can or Brahms to have that lullaby composed by a week from Thursday.
But then we do live in a world where reality shows are candidates for Emmys and the Kardashian skanks are among the most admired people on the planet.
High art is for those consumers who are light in the loafers and brilliance in the field of music has been reduced to chuckleheads making rhymes over dance beats.
You can always say we’ve brought this upon ourselves, and I, for one, wouldn’t disagree.
But the definition of quality has been reduced to the size of the amount of cash it brings in.
Who cares?
At your next séance, ask Michelangelo if he was asked to speed-paint his way through that ceiling.
I think you know his response.


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