Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Art and Wealth

I haven't done a helluva good job of keeping this thing up lately, have I? Not for any lack of things upon which to write, rant, reflect, or pontificate. Been a lot happening, actually, but I'll be damned if I've had time to sit down and write about it, or do any other writing, or even much blog reading. I've just been too damn busy with work. Who knew pushing someone else's words around all day would be so time-consuming? Self-reflection is nice and all, but self-reflection doesn't pay the bills. At least not in any form I've been able to capitalize on yet (but I'm working on that...)

Which brings up an interesting question I've been pondering. I'm reading a book right now, a good book full of lovely writing, and wry observations about many things having to do with fishing, nature, and life. The kind of book written by someone who has no expectation of it making any actual, you know, money to live on and such.

Of course, many such books (and other forms of art) are produced all the time, all for sheer love of self-expression, with no thought to profitability at all. But in this book's case, the author comes from Old Money, and is apparently quite loaded.

So here's my question: are there fundamental, existential differences between art made by the hardscrabble and art made by the wealthy?  Is art created wholly outside the crucible of suffering, hardship, denial, or sacrifice any less worthy, or legitimate, than art created by those who, through choice or circumstance, live closer to the subsistence or working-class end of the dial? Or is art made by the wealthy merely an indulgence, a pastime? Does it lack...something?

Now I'm generally not a class warrior when it comes to that: if I like it I like it, regardless whether it was created by a trust-funder or a prole. That both can and do produce art is not in question. But I have to admit that sometimes, when the wind is just right, I can catch a whiff of indolence rising from the pages of books written by people who inhabit worlds to which most of us will never have our visas stamped.

In response, my lower-class populist hackles rise a bit, and I suddenly find myself reading through a filter, a class-based judgement system that is not at all fair to the material itself. That's silly, of course, and in the end it doesn't keep me from enjoying it, but the unavoidable markers of class, wealth and privilege inherent in such works do tend to remind me of my place in this world, which I'm sure is not at all what the author intended. Social and economic class informs our view of everything, I suppose, whether we want it to or not. Even art and literature.


  1. Great question. I believe art is something one must do if it is in them, wether its folk art or fine art its an expression of what is with in the artist and that expression causes some form of release that you just can't buy with hedge fund money no matter how hard you try.
    The wealthy artist might have more time to perfect his his craft but maybe the hardscrabble artist has less time but more incentive to try and pay a bill or two with a piece he sells. But then all of us, no matter how rich or poor have our own struggles and trials in life to deal with that will come out in any thing we try and create.
    In the end Artists should never be compared to each other because something magical happens when the picture in the artist's head is telegraphed to their hands and its is a product completely Unique to the individual that can never be duplicated only counterfeited.

  2. On the one hand, one could surmise that art made by the wealthy is more pure, as they are free to pursue and/or produce whatever strikes their fancy without thought of "what will it pay?". On the other, maybe the hardscrabble artist, perhaps having found that there are many other things that pay better, is truly drawn to his art for the love of it. Or maybe both, or neither, or...

  3. Can't argue with either- Uplandish said it all in his last paragraph, or so I thought until Phil added his "both or neither".

    Kidding aside, I am an essentially poor working guy educated to my benefit and youthful distress as a scholarship student among the rich. Champagne taste on a beer budget" has been a mantra for my life.

    The worst part of being poor and a writer is writing crap for necessary money. I believe you have quit jobs for that.

    The worst part of being rich is probably being a dilettante never so passionate about what you MUST write that you just drift.

    But in my book of books I see everything from Welsh near- Marxists through every class to Aristo who wrote good books...

    So: Raymond Chandler "There are no genres only literature and precious little of that." Same with class in place of genre. Though Chandler, poet of LA's Mean Streets (invented the term I think), inventor of Noir, went to "Public" ie NOT school in England-- Dulwich, with PG Wodehouse. You can look it up.

    Besty Huntington, born to money, blew her inheritance in two years, got kicked out of Wellesley, put herself through BU J School waitressing. In our partnership I usually made more money. But she taught me some practical lessons that work even for the determined poor with elevated tastes. Best was: "We are too poor to buy SHIT." If you buy crap binoculars you will buy five pairs in as many years. If you buy German optics you will buy one pair and will them to your grandkids.

    When Tom McGuane was young he said to an interviewer that if he didn't work as hard as his friends in the body shop then he wasn't working. He laughs at this today-- privilege of being over 70-- while I try to do as good an approximation as I can- all right, lucky if I get four hours on a good day. But many my age are retired!

    And re our-- writer's-- work. Best dealt with by a character in an early Patrick O'Brian novel, before the sea series. A poor ex- schoolteacher is renting an incredibly awful old house in Wales-- no modern "conveniences", no running water, only coal heat, while trying to write his first novel-- and a local he hires for something calls him "richj". When he, shocked, disagrees, the local say: "Sir, you don't have to WORK."

    Reasons why I am a rather Trotskyist small c conservative...

    And thanks for providing one of the few places with readers who might understand this rant.

  4. Art is art. Product is product.

    It's not about what you have when you start it, I think, but what you hope to have when you finish.

  5. Late to the party, but...There are two things here which have not really been flushed out. Writing as craft/vocation and reading as subjective. I mean writing as art is fine if it is a hobby or something you do, "just for the love of it", but when you want to pay bills with it, it must by necessity become a craft. I also think that it helps to frame writing things that one would otherwise frown upon. First there is the reality that creating a masterpiece (of any sort) takes not only an apprenticeship but also a lengthy period of being a journeyman. Or in other words, for every breath taking master piece out that same craftsman would have produced many fine, if ordinary pieces and a few that were probably down right crappy. But in the end they were essential in the creation of the master piece. Also, any craftsman is at the mercy of their client, whoever that may be. It's just the nature of the game. When one has to rely on a craft to feed their family they "put their time in" on all the unglamorous things that make a good craftsman in the long run by giving one a depth and discipline that the weekend warrior who only does "what they like" will never have.

    If someone came up to you in any normal workplace and said, "do what you love, and love what you do" you would smack them silly for spouting ridiculous first world problem type nonsense. It's called work, you do it for a living, you should do something for a living that you find meaningful and worthwhile. But under no circumstances should "it" be conflated with what you love. Because the no matter how much you love it, doing something for money will inevitably cheapen it (whatever "it" may be).

    Secondly, it's not always about the writer. Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers ever so I am told. I hate him, the only thing I even liked of his was Timon of Athens. I believe the official term for this is "reader response criticism", but I could be mistaken. Is Ruark better than De Valene? Depends, do you prefer hearing about plantation hunts on drawn wagons or chasing Mr. Bob on sharecropper land? Does the paternal lecturing of the Old Man remind you of the things your father taught you or what you want to teach your kid? Or does it come across as annoying and overbearing? It all comes down to the individual reader, their experiences and tastes. Kind of a cop out, but also true.