Cash Cows, Golden Calves and Counting Coins by Canvases

This one probably has a hint of deja vu too, these darn incidents keep occurring. 

Yesterday, a friend was taking part in one of those panels about arts and creativity panels that people like putting on to make it look like they are doing something in between drinking tea and eating biscuits and staring at an impenetrable writer’s block. 

While explaining how to sell your ideas and make money, one panelist stated that you should not commit yourself to making art until you know who your financial audience is.

Put even more simply, do not make art until you know you’ve got a buyer. 

The speed in which the capillaries in my eyes burst makes me believe I may have been created by Hanna Barbera. I am an angry animation made flesh.

It is not only the antithesis of art that “financial audience” are the first consideration before brush meets canvas, pen meets paper, chisel meets marble or scalpel meats skin to create an unusual flesh dress, it is the antithesis of scientific endeavor and most (if not all) products of human imagination. 

Isn’t the project to persuade people that what you make, the product of your mind and hands, is something they should buy? Yet again I quote Alan Moore (all hail the wizard of the Midlands, ah to hell with it, the cosmos) – “if the audience knew what they wanted, they wouldn’t be the audience, they would be the artist”.

“Why did you write that poem about seeing starfish at dusk on the anniversary of your dad’s death?” 

“I checked the sales of seashore based poetry that hinted at fears of mortality made comforting by occasional glimpses of surprising beauty, and it seemed the market was strong, so that’s what I went for. It’s not so strong now, so I am currently working on the greeting card couplet. Got writer’s block on, ‘your anniversary is ruby, so…’”

I am sure I have been successfully conned in the past, but I like things that don’t seem to be creativity for commerce. My favourite action movie is Robocop. I have no idea how many times I have watched it, but it is probably more than any film you’ve seen (I don’t throw down as a challenge, but happy to be corrected by your obessions). It is a great action movie, beautifully performed, sharp, witty, satirical and brutal, but the extreme violence feels like it serves a purpose. Like Robocop himself, the excesses are not soulless. Reading interviews with Paul Verhoeven, he is a depth greater than, “I make action flicks because they make bucks”, and I think it shows on screen. The two sequels fail dismally to replicate what made the original so strong, I have an inkling financial dabbling and the dream of cash cow franchise aided the flatness – (warning, my next analogy may have been used before)  – like the steak first transported by Seth Brundle in The Fly, all the components were there, but somehow, the joy of the flesh itself was gone, a synthetic bitterness revolted the tongue. 

Each heartfelt and unplanned success, whether it is The Office or The Smiths or The Sopranos inspires others to copy and paste, sure in the knowledge that they are tapping into “the market”. Few rise to acclaim because there is something fake about them. Sometimes it is not the lust for cash that leads to a shapeshift into something else’s style, we see it and think, “ah that is the way to do things”, and follow because we think we have been shown the way. There are few originals. Perhaps there are too many centuries of culture to spring up fully formed as new, exotic, and utterly original creatures. We are the product of the artistic nature and nurture that has gone before.

But I have left the point I meant to make, another circuitous route to a half-formed idea. 

I think I can sniff out or stare out what is a fake, what comes from the prime motive of money rather than a sense of “we do this because we must”. There are those things that outlast the symphonies written solely to please the emperor, the frescos that removed their idiosyncrasies for fear of originality that may offend the Queen, not always popular at the time, hopefully the artist dies content at least that their vision was made, even if the canvas didn’t get the highest bids. 

Another link between science and art – great scientific theories, fabulous innovations, often occur by chance on the journey to find something else. There are experiments that appear to offer no immediate benefits, no speedier washing up liquid or quicker than ever before noodles or automatic daffodils that are newer and faster, but on the journey, as the results are scrutinised and the experiments are repeated, beautiful things may come to light, and some may change our lives. 

You don’t have to be poor to be an artist. You don’t have to shun money to be authentic. 

But if the initial inspiration behind each new work is “what can I make that the rich consumer will desire?”, estate agency, banking or plumbing may offer greater security.

New tour for 2014 – Sheffield, Norwich, Nottingham, Salford and the rest, plus tours with Josie Long and Grace Petrie and Skeptics in the Pub visits. Details HERE 

Happiness Through Science DVD (w/ Prof Cox commentary) HERE

Cosmic Genome app has new Brian Cox stuff and a Chris Hadfield interview going up on Christmas Eve

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3 Responses to Cash Cows, Golden Calves and Counting Coins by Canvases

  1. For something to be art I think it has to be original in the sense that it isn’t a copy, a derivative or an imitation. It’s impossible to escape being influenced however unless you live in total isolation from the rest of humanity. We are always influenced by what went before whether we’re aware of it or not. Guess you call that inspiration as opposed to imagination. As I see it imagination is the key to art that is what you call authentic, not fake, yet it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily good either. It’s tricky. One thing I know for sure is if making money is your main motivation for creating art, then it’s not art, it’s manufacture.

  2. andywootton says:

    “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money” – Dr. Johnson. Boswell took him seriously. But Johnson also said “I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” So he gave it away free but without judicious editing. Now, where else have I seen that?

  3. Chris says:

    “The speed in which the capillaries in my eyes burst makes me believe I may have been created by Hanna Barbera.” – Loved this writing – but see no way of paying you for it. ‘Tis a shame.

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