FT115: “If you like the arts vote Republican because corporations need profits to make charitable donations.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 27th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Starving and Suffering Artists

There’s a reason starving artists are calorically challenged.   There isn’t a large demand for them.  One of the greatest Post-Impressionist painters, Vincent van Gogh (1853- 1890), sold only one painting during his lifetime.  He suffered bouts of depression.  And in the end killed himself.  He was a man that truly suffered for his art.  He existed for his art.  And died a failure.  Of course, that was then.  Now if you stumble across a van Gogh in your parent’s attic you can probably retire early.  And live very well.

Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the park with George is a musical based on Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886).  The musical is a multigenerational piece.  The story is part fact and part fiction.  In the first act Seurat loses his girlfriend, Dot, to Louis the baker because he can provide for her.  Unlike the starving artist.  Well, that.  And the fact that his art can’t share the artist with anyone else.  Though Dot leaves George with something of his.  A daughter.  The second act opens with George’s great grandson displaying his new sculpture and schmoozing with rich people who can fund his next work.  Because art costs money.  Like everything else in life. 

Georges Bizet was a French composer who died young.  And a failure.  At least he thought so.  During his lifetime he did not earn much of a living from his skills as a composer.  Instead he made a living by transcribing other people’s music.  Working long hours.  Through depression and ill health.  In his last years he completed an opera unlike any of the time.  He was very proud and pleased.  But, alas, the people and critics weren’t.  Shortly thereafter he died from a heart attack.  A young man of 37.  Sure that his works were as great failures as was his life.  But history lamented the early death of Bizet.  For his last opera, Carmen (1875), is one of the greatest and most beloved operas of all time.  And packs opera houses around the world whenever it’s performed.

Art Belongs to the Wealthy

Artists not only starve.  They suffer.  And it’s often their suffering that produces their greatest art.  As their art provides an outlet for their pain.  Which keeps them going.  At least for those who don’t quit life.  So when they can’t find rich patrons to fund their art they hunger and suffer more.  For it isn’t the poor who buy their work.  Not when they’re struggling to put food on their own tables.  Leaving them with little if any disposable income.  No.  Art belongs to the wealthy.  Some modern art has changed this.  Such as the music industry.  Where musicians can sell a work of art millions of time.  Something that just wasn’t available to van Gogh, Seurat or Bizet.  Though in the world of digital music some artists are experiencing what it was like during the times of van Gogh, Seurat and Bizet.  Where people copy their music from others instead of buying it.  Though their starving and suffering today is not quite what is was in the days of van Gogh, Seurat and Bizet. 

Also different today is that many artists don’t have to die before we recognize their talent.  Today you can make millions from your art.  While living to enjoy those millions.  Which for many is the goal of their art.  Today the artists live like the rich patrons did in the past.  Who didn’t create art.  But enjoyed it.  And paid for it.  Making art possible.  Today all it takes is to be popular.  You don’t even have to be good.  If you can ride a wave of popularity the people will shower you with money.  Which is a heck of a lot better than having to please a king or queen.  Or the rich upper classes.  So some artists are doing well.  These new artists.  While the old ones continue to suffer.  Well, not so much the old artists but the venues for their old art.  Where some things never change.  For this art is still the art of the wealthy.

Anyone can buy a ticket for the cheap seats at a symphony orchestra or an opera.  And they do.  Rich.  Middle Class.  Even the poor.  But these people aren’t patrons of art.  They enjoy some of it.  But not all of it.  They may buy a ticket for Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  Or Bizet’s Carmen.  Or a showing of Post-Impressionism including van Gogh and Seurat.  So they’re less likely to buy season subscriptions.  And even less likely to make generous donations.  No.  These people enjoy a nice night out or two.  They don’t immerse themselves into the art.  Which is a problem.  Because art costs money.  Especially the ones with symphony orchestras.  Whose musicians tend to belong to unions these days.  Making a season of symphonic music very expensive.  As is a season of opera.  Which is even more expensive because they have very expensive singing talent.  Sets.  And all the people behind the scenes to make it all work.

Corporations and their Shareholders typically make the most Generous Donations to the Arts

Chances are if you went to a symphony or opera during the Great Recession you noticed some things.  For the recession caused great hardship for the arts.  Because when people lose their jobs they don’t buy tickets.  Or make donations.  When a corporation is losing money they make their donations less generous.  Or stop making them altogether.  Simply because the economy is so bad that their sales are down.  And they’re bleeding cash.  So just like people who lose their jobs cut out the nonessentials like vacations or going out to dinner, corporations have to make cuts, too.  Employee benefits.  Jobs.  And charitable donations.  Governments, too.  As unemployment rises more people fall into the social safety nets.  Unemployment benefits, food stamps, housing assistance, health care, etc.  Less economic activity brings in fewer taxes.  While the recession put more people into these programs.  They have to cut something.  And programs for the arts are high on their list.  Because human physical needs take precedence over spiritual needs.  For people can die if we don’t meet their most basic physical needs.

Art is a business.  Members in an orchestra don’t play for free.  Or cheaply.  If ticket sales and donations are down orchestra members may be unable to get the contracts they want.  And go on strike.  The orchestra, opera or ballet may shorten the season to cut costs.  And, of course, they will ask you for money at all times of the day and night.  Before performances.  In your email.  On the telephone.  Everywhere.  They’ll even approach you in a parking lot if you once made a donation but haven’t in the current year.  They will do this because people don’t universally love their art.  At least they don’t love it as much as they love their football, baseball, basketball or hockey.  Whose players have gone on strike.  But their seasons never lived or died from the affect of the economy on their rich patrons.  For sports is a business, too.  Only one with a far greater audience.  Which makes fundraising easy for them.  While it’s difficult in the arts.  For if just one corporate sponsor is struggling to survive bankruptcy and doesn’t contribute as they had in the past it could put the artistic business into bankruptcy.  Especially if they are already heavily in debt.  Which many are.

People in the arts eschew capitalism.  They say it is cold, harsh, cruel and callous.  That it’s all about profits and money.  Which they say is wrong.  And disgusting.  Not like their noble world of the arts.  Which is warm, caring, loving and nurturing.  For music has charms to sooth a savage breast.  As do the other arts as well.  The only problem is that so few people enjoy them.  Which means like in days of yore art still must rely on the generosity of rich people.  And corporations.  To make those big charitable donations.  Without which art cannot survive.  And what do rich people and profitable corporations need?  A healthy economy.  A free market economy.  That generates jobs for everyone.  Giving more people disposable income to try different things.  Like the arts.  And makes fat profits for corporations and their shareholders.  The people who typically make the most generous of donations to the arts.  The rich who don’t have to work.  And need something else to occupy their time.  Such as the arts.  So if you like the arts vote Republican.  Increase the pool of disposable income.  Where all charitable donations originate from.  So the rich patrons can pay for the Carmens of the world as well as the more obscure works no one has ever heard of.  Because these people love the arts.  And immerse themselves into them.  Giving life to more art than ticket sales alone could ever generate.  So thank these rich people.  These lovers of art.  And help them give us more art.  By letting them make money to give away.  And not demonize the thing that lets them do this.  Capitalism.

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