Art and Commerce

The crowning achievement of human civilization.

The crowning achievement of human civilization.

Louis C.K. is right, modern human society doesn't appreciate what it has and how much it took to get them to that point.  If you live in a developed country, things are the best they've ever been.  So much has changed even just within his lifetime; it boggles my mind sometimes when I think about how much things have changed from like early civilization.  Like how we pour water out of faucets.  And have air conditioning.  And iPhones.  And shake shack burgers.  I still don't understand how a car works exactly, something about sparking gasoline to expand air in pistons and rotating things to make bigger things rotate fast and something.  I mean how did we come up with these things?

It's funny how civilization itself was made possible through something as simple as irrigation, the first true technological breakthrough (I suppose tool making, language and other things probably came prior to that, but semantics, breakthrough vs. invention, etc.).  Way before when we were spending our waking hours hunting and gathering, we probably had no time to really sit down and ponder the meaning of life, but being able to settle and spend time creating and developing things afforded us the luxury of having art in our lives.

I'm aware that I'm using art in the most broad sense possible.  But truly, much of life that isn't reduced to simple survival can be seen as some sort of art.  Indeed, a quick wiki search states that "Though the definition of what constitutes art is dispute and has changed over time, general descriptions mention an idea of imaginative or technical skill stemming from human agency and creation."  This can even be reduced to, "anything of physical substance made by some force of human intelligence".

I remember recently watching a trailer for Monuments Men and thinking a couple things:

a) This movie looks terrible and boring.  Like if you imagined Ocean's Eleven, but the terrible and boring version of it.

"What we're doing is really, really important."

"What we're doing is really, really important."

b) One quote I remember thinking, that sounded so stupid and oozing of self-importance was: "But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements, then it's as if they never existed." as if to say, "Look at us, we're saving art, we're so much more important than you know the actual soldiers losing their lives in battle and stuff."

But after I thought about a little more deeply, there is a modicum of truth within that statement.  Art is how we remember the ideas and thoughts of mankind throughout time.  It is sometimes surreal to be able to peer into the minds of our ancestors by reading their literature, viewing their paintings and sculptures, listening to their songs, being able to imagine what life was like in different times and worlds.

It's no coincidence that we're given these loud messages from our predecessors.  The pyramids are a simple example for evidence of mankind's need to try to escape our unavoidable transience, by attempting to leave a permanent physical manifestation of their own existence.

All great artistic movements, from ancient times to classical Greek and Roman times to the Renaissance, had to be financed somehow.  While these movements coincided with technologic improvements that had practical benefits to human survival, artistic improvements depended on either financial backing from governments, or rich patrons of the arts.  Art that survives the test of time passes a standard of beauty decided by people, and over time they decided with their wallets. (Or gold pouches.  Or choice flock animals.  Or virtual bitcoin wallets.)

This makes the Vatican 80 million euros a year, so money well invested way back when, I suppose.

This makes the Vatican 80 million euros a year, so money well invested way back when, I suppose.

In the past half century or so, the way media is distributed is based on a system that maximizes profits.  Whoever thought 100 years ago where a song you sing could be heard, or a film you shoot could be seen or a piece you've written could be read by everyone and anyone in the world?

The cream rises to the top in this model, but a lot of crap does as a result as well.  The other driver of artistic creation is vanity, where art is created as a means to self-serve, rather than to inspire and illuminate.  Such art survives because much of the masses wish to live vicariously through it and feel as though they have a connection with this elevated sense of self.  And although not all art driven by vanity is deplorable, but much of it probably won't last longer than a generation.

As an artist, it's tough to balance the line between art and commerce.  Moving to LA makes you realize that being an artist means being a business, if you want to make work that survives.  The NYC artist attaches themselves to the Salinger-esque philosophy of abhorring "selling out" but to have a lasting impact, you have to realize that you have to create something that sells, or the creative powers that be will not give you a platform to perform.  As an artist, you realize that you pay a large opportunity cost in your pursuit, and I think that most artists will have to quickly realize that self-monetization is necessary if they want to have an extended stay.

My favorite art in terms of for self consumption is actually that of early 20th century British and American literature, narratives that challenge social and moral ideas, as well as human existence itself, stuff that inspires change and improvement of the world.  However, in today's society, the art that has the means to impact today's society is film and will be for a while.  Films are often now quoted or explicated to make a point in daily conversation, inspirational talks, sermons, speeches, etc.  They come the closest to capturing a sliver of life as it is being lived, even if it is artificially conjured.  

Unfortunately, film is also the most expensive palette in which to paint with.  Any film worth making has to run the gauntlet of investors and producers making sure there's a viable market to support it, and this trial by fire trickles down to the creatives involved in the film's production.  What writer, actor, director will help capture the best story, and as a result, net the biggest profits?  And because of the film industry's opportunity for fame and fortune, the process of sifting through endless amounts of charlatans makes it that much more inefficient and costly to create something pure and golden.

I'm in the fortunate position of being able to create, within certain limitations, content that I feel that is true to my artistic vision.  I try to be judicious in terms of what I create, however, because I would like to be in this business for the long run.  (And having money to like spend on a home and food and a car and stuff is good too.)  I've learned a lot through creating and making mistakes along the way, carefully honing my skills and thinking ahead to future projects.

It's funny because recently, my sister as a fashion designer back home in New York is now also beginning to realize the same lessons I've come across in my first couple years in LA.  She's understanding that she can't design things that are geared towards niche markets looking like they just came out of Alexander McQueen's attic when the proper distribution is not in place, and that she needs to first break in by building her brand and marketing.  She hopes to improve upon that on her upcoming line next Spring.

My sister and I, both as artists, are just now beginning to marry the commerce part into our respective crafts.  I pray that we'll soon see success as a result.