It is one of the ironies of art in its various forms that in order to profit off of it, you must let it go. It is only when others possess some form of art and claim sort of ownership over it that what one creates has any sort of economic value to the creator. A person, for example, can be a perfectly creative person in writing or music or some other art form , but so long as their works belong to them and only to them, then art is their passion but it is not their vocation. Even if a writer, for example, is self-published, their work only profits them when someone else finds it worthy of interest, and once that happens, the work has ceased to belong to the writer alone, but is now something that someone else possesses and has paid for and feels a certain sense of propriety feelings for. The same is true for anything else. Any economic model that exists for creative people to make a living off of their creativity does so because there is a substantially greater market of people who want to pay for creativity than are willing to or able to be creative themselves.
Earlier this week I was reading about the bail agreement some “Pharma bro” was making because he was considered such a flight risk, and lo and behold the demands were for a classic piece of art work and a Wu Tang album. In both cases, whether we are dealing with physical art or music of a certain kind, the chief appeal is that one has it, irrespective of any personal beliefs about its taste. To be sure, the fact that there are a lot more people than before competing over art has certainly increased the price of some of it. It is beyond the reach of most plebians, for example, to own any examples of the Hudson River School of American landscape painters, as beautiful as those paintings are. Likewise, if you want something that is definitely limited edition for contemporary music you have to worry about Russian oligarchs or others of that kind. Even the homes of merely ordinarily rich people have present within them some sort of creative works of beauty, whether it be a stained glass door, or some sort of egrets supporting a coffee table full of gorgeous books, or a library well stocked with materials calculated to impress the visitor, or an obvious taste in Japanese swords and Noh masks.
Creative work is something that is genuinely limited, and most people only have so much inside of them that can be brought to the surface, much less something that other people care about. According to some statistics I have read in a book, somewhere around 4,000 books are published or self-published each day, and many of those books never find anyone to read them. Meanwhile, publishers and writers go to great lengths to draw people to their works in the hope that someone will appreciate them and bring those works to the attention of a larger audience. In some future day, the badly drawn horse of a certain prolific writer may be something worthwhile to someone, and to have a handmade copy of a personal letter in such an age as this may be something worth fighting over. As of yet it is not the case, yet one can rest assured that as soon as it is the case, it will cease to be the property of the writer or its original audience. Those private sentiments, expressed however awkwardly, will become something for someone to add to their collection, or something for scholars to try to interpret in order to support their theories about the writer, and so on.
Why is this so? A great deal of it comes about because there is a certain asymmetry between the artist and the collector. The artist has their art, but for most people their creative gifts do not attract a great deal of attention. When the artist is in the prime of creation, they are usually not possessed of good hype, and it is only after critical approval and word of mouth have spread for a while that most artists are appreciated for the creativity exhibited during the course of their lives. A collector, on the other hand, is usually someone whose financial gifts were of a high order and who wants to be seen as a person of class and good taste. Among the more obvious ways of showing this off are to collect good art. This desire to bring honor and glory to oneself by the possession of beautiful things makes it worthwhile for others to create beautiful things. Were there no demand, the soul that was compelled to create works of beauty would do so for himself or herself alone, and those creative works would languish until someone found them worth appreciating, at which point the appreciation may well be far too late to be of value for the artist themselves, since possession occurred when they were no longer in the world of the living.
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