May 16, 2018

The place where Art & Capitalism meet can Break your Heart—but it Doesn’t have To.

Art and capitalism have a complicated relationship.

I know there are many artists out there struggling to make money, constantly fighting against the tide of consumer culture while trying to package their art to fit snugly into the narrow, materialistic bounds of today’s market.

Those who are truly passionate about their chosen art form often have a tough time integrating those skills into society. If we’re an expert economist or brilliant lawyer, we’ll make it through the whirlwind of capitalism just fine, with maybe a few bumps and bruises. But if we are more in love with music or painting or writing, the more right-brain qualities that are less technical and more whimsically inventive, we can have a hell of a time manifesting our talents in the marketplace.

The place where art and corporate interest meet is where hearts are broken, as Dave Chappelle once said in an interview after his departure from the spotlight.

Now, as an artistic person (if I do say so myself), I am not necessarily complaining about the state of things. The market decides what’s valuable, and at the end of the day it’s pretty hard to sell art to everyday people. Most of us are just struggling to get by, and are not willing to put our hard-earned wages toward something that doesn’t tangibly improve our lives. We can’t expect people who sit in an office all day or lay bricks in the cold to support us on our eccentric creative adventures.

I’ve wondered for a long time how we can integrate good art into the capitalist paradigm, because I truly believe creative endeavors can be just as valuable as investment banking or law enforcement. Is this a lost cause? Is artistic creation always going to play second fiddle to the more “practical” abilities in our society?

I don’t really know, but what I can say is that if the point of capitalism is commodification then I see no reason why art can’t be valued in the same way as other products, being that creativity is essential to our fundamental nature as human beings.

Recently, I was listening to an interview with Rod Serling, creator of “The Twilight Zone” and valiant defender of free speech against government censorship during the McCarthy era and the Red Scare. He said something about the meeting place of artistic creation and commercialization that really lit me up:

“They say that inherently you can’t be commercial and artistic. You can’t be commercial and quality. You cannot be commercial concurrent with having a preoccupation with the level of storytelling that you want to achieve. And this I have to reject! I don’t think calling something commercial tags it with a kind of odious suggestion that it stinks and that it’s something raunchy to be ashamed of. If you say commercial means to be publicly acceptable, then what’s wrong with that? The essence of my argument is that as long as you’re not ashamed of what you’re writing if you’re a writer, then there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m not ashamed of doing a television series. I reject the suggestion made by many people that you can’t have public acceptance while remaining artistic.”

Serling went on to develop a television series that expanded the consciousness of the collective for years to come, successfully fusing art and corporate interest.

Now Serling was obviously an incredibly gifted person and we can’t all aspire to be exactly like him. What we can do is everything in our power to embody his message. It is our responsibility as artists to find our way to the mainstream if we truly believe what we are doing is vital to improving society. If we don’t care about that, we should be okay with possibly earning pennies for the art we make, otherwise we can get a more traditional job where the function and value are more predictably self-evident.

As long as we’re not ashamed of the work that we’re doing, we should have no problem gearing it toward public acceptance. At least that’s what Rod Serling believed, and he seems worth listening to.

I would say, we should always be attempting to align our artwork with what is needed by the public if we care about changing the world, and if not, then art is just a hobby for us. Nothing wrong with that, but don’t expect greenbacks for it.

If the work we are doing is having an impact, we will be compensated for it in some way.

Art and capitalism have a complicated relationship, yet I do believe there can be some overlap—an intersection where creativity and commercialization can happily meet each other. If there wasn’t, no art would exist at all.

It is up to the individuals who are passionate about art and life to express their creative potential to the reality of the modern world. We can’t expect to be rewarded for our work if we don’t make it valuable to others.

The artist’s journey is an uphill trek, but it’s worth it for me.




Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche on Dharma Art, and the Art of Life.

There is Nothing Spiritual about Being Broke.


Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: @elephantjournal/Instagram
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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