It seems to me that artists, writers, musicians and all human beings have a fundamental choice to make. In their daily work and in the values embodied within and stories told by their art works, they can choose to uphold the status quo, pandering to the current extraordinary popular delusions and illusions, reinforcing them and enshrining them, or they can seek to challenge, overturn and replace them.
In commercial art, music and writing, there is a tacit, implicit endorsement of the existing system. The publishers have chosen to work within the constraints and assumptions of the commercial world and are trying to succeed from within the system, following the system’s unstated and more explicit rules. The last thing they want to do is to promote authors, artists and songwriters whose very message undermines the foundations upon which they hope to make their own fortune.
Therefore, they have an inbuilt bias toward supporting artists that have chosen to laud the current system, values and people-affecting aspects of it, to amplify a view of humanity that is driven by the acquisition of increasing fortunes and, therefore, to shun critical thinkers that point out the flaws in this entire edifice who might offer alternatives to it.
The artists and publishers appeal to ideas like tradition, the worthiness of the rich, the hopelessness of trying to change things, individuality as opposed to union and contempt for the poor, as being lazy, feckless, inferior or otherwise worthless and disposable. They rely on some trite and tired ideas to convey this message. It’s always been like this, so it always has to be. It’s a rotten, unfair system, but it’s the best of a bad lot. You wouldn’t want something unknown, scary and frightening instead, would you? Or ideas like he may have killed thousands, but he was only looking for the best return on his investment (as if that’s the highest good).
Publishers and artists that fall into the upholding of the status quo camp believe that there is a ready audience, eager to hear these messages. For much of the twentieth century, this has been largely correct. If there are no other ideas available, then purveyors of art that emboldens those that seek to keep everything the way it is, no matter how offensive and unacceptable it is to a majority of humanity, will be able to push their products to purchasers that know no better. It’s all very self-reinforcing. You tell people what to think, so they think it, leading them to buy commercial art that tells them what they think. It reinforces their illusions. At the bottom of the spiral is the implicit idea that making money is the goal of humanity.
Unfortunately, that whole institution is beginning to falter. There are now people that think other ideas. They want to hear about viable alternatives to the current “make money” creed. They have lost their market ascendency religion. There is a hunger for art, writing, music and other intellectual works that speak about other solutions, novel possibilities and a world where the current system has been displaced or replaced. A large population of people want revolutionary ideas.
Who serves that population? Who speaks for that constituency? Which artists are leading the agenda for ideas on this front? Clearly, there are artists that believe in this message. Clearly there is an audience for this message. But the current commercial edifice can’t connect the two. It has a vested interest in not doing so.
I think that humanity will find a way. In Soviet Russia, where the state controlled all publishing and distribution, Samizdat (“self publishing”) was invented. In this way of publishing, people would hand copy works by authors and pass them to friends. Millions of Russians were typing all night, faithfully reproducing works for distribution for free. It was like a return to the hand illuminated scrolls of medieval times, copied by hand by armies of scribes.
Today, authors can access eBook publishing tools. OK, the commercial sites may refuse to distribute those revolutionary books, but there are ways around that. Musicians can do the same, if they choose to do so. Distribution web sites might soon discover that there is more to be gained, maybe not financially, but in other ways, by supporting such artists instead of censoring them. It all depends on when the tide will turn.
While money making is the highest good, then even making money from those with a thirst for alternative ideas will be forsaken, simply because those ideas might threaten the entire money making basis with which these companies are still defining their success. On the other hand, if some other idea becomes the popular highest good, universally accepted by the majority, then success won’t be measured in money, as it was before. Success will be measured by the extent to which the distribution web site supports the new highest good. For argument’s sake, let’s imagine a world in which loving one another becomes the highest social good. In such a world, those that promote these ideas would find distributors willing to do so, because it increases the world’s ability to love one another. Are you following me?
Right now, humanity plays a game called “maximise personal wealth”, where wealth is defined as money. There are those that opt into this game and there are dissenters wishing to play a different game. Some of the artists and publishers are supporters of the game (usually fervent and zealous) and some are dissenters, looking for better alternatives to it. If the game we all play suddenly shifts to being “maximise quality of life”, where quality is defined in non monetary terms, then everything changes. The commercial edifice becomes less relevant. But the dilemma is that the game cannot change until the ideas about alternatives are disseminated. For that to happen, people need to think critically, instead of parroting the status-quo-preserving messages published to them. They need to begin to be exposed to and think about alternatives, that publishers and many artists are not giving them.
So if you are an artist that has an alternative message, you need to find innovative ways to spread those ideas, until such time as enough people have been exposed to them, thought about them and bought into them. At that moment, the entire world changes. It’s a tipping point.
The route to changing the world will not be through existing commercial publishers, you can be assured of that. You won’t make money. If you are the kind of artist that thinks the focus on personal wealth maximisation is a dangerous trend for the species, then you won’t really be about making money, will you? Sure, you’ll need enough to survive while that’s the prevailing game we’re all playing, but if your intention is to change the game, then you will take other satisfactions from appreciation of your work. Non-monetary satisfactions.
You can already see a nascent group of people making music, art and writing for reasons other than commercial gain. They have already accepted that it would be miraculous for sudden riches to flow to them, even if they would not turn such riches away. They are producing their art for entirely different ends.
Those artists will, unfortunately, be persecuted by those threatened by what they stand for. The upholders of the status quo will desperately try to stop them. If, as an artist, you think this means you are no good at art, that’s a colossal misreading of the situation. It’s actually an endorsement of the potency of your alternative ideas. No wonder they don’t want to pay you! In their current system of success, you’re capable of bringing the entire house of cards down. That could be all the satisfaction you need.
P.S. Just as I was finishing this piece, I noticed this in my inbox. It says something similar: