The marketplace could destroy an artist’s gift

- - copyright

From a story in the NYTimes Magazine entitled “What is Art for” (here):

For nearly a decade he had been struggling to explain — to his family, to nonartist friends, to himself — why he devoted so much of his time and energy to something as nonremunerative as poetry.

The predicament of all artists living “in an age whose values are market values and whose commerce consists almost exclusively in the purchase and sale of commodities.” For centuries people have been speaking of talent and inspiration as gifts; Hyde’s basic argument was that this language must extend to the products of talent and inspiration too. Unlike a commodity, whose value begins to decline the moment it changes hands, an artwork gains in value from the act of being circulated—published, shown, written about, passed from generation to generation — from being, at its core, an offering.

If creative work doesn’t necessarily have any market value, how is the artist to survive?

In the course of writing “The Gift,” Hyde underwent an intellectual transformation on this subject. He began the work believing there was “an irreconcilable conflict” between gift exchange and the market; the enduring (if not necessarily the happy) artist was the one who most successfully fended off commercial demands. By the time he was finished, Hyde had come to a less-dogmatic conclusion. It was still true, he believed, that the marketplace could destroy an artist’s gift, but it was equally true that the marketplace wasn’t going anywhere; it had always existed, and it always would. The key was to find a good way to reconcile the two economies.

Copyrights are utilitarian things. They generate money to pay a mortgage and buy groceries and continue working. Extended too far beyond their practical usefulness, copyrights not only contradict their original intent; they also wall creators off from the sources of their inventiveness. Genius, Hyde believes, needs to “tinker in a collective shop.”

There Are 6 Comments On This Article.

  1. The marketplace gets a bad wrap. If it weren’t for the market place, artists might spend a lot less time making art, and a lot more time mopping floors. There’s a lot to be said for the value of practice when it comes to art. If you’re not practicing, you’re not improving.

    I sincerely believe that the marketplace enables more gifts than it destroys.

  2. Bitter photographer

    That last sentence is a load of shit.

    Here are some things that will destroy an artist’s gift:

    – $500 editorial day rates (in this expensive digital age) with interminable contracts, demands for original receipts and all rights, and being treated with contempt by clients who don’t give a shit whether you can make a living or not because there are fifty people in line behind you.
    – A buyer’s market caused by a million digital photographers entering the market, all prepared to accept low rates and give away all rights.
    – Hours wasted on the computer archiving, retouching and sending files to clients who aren’t prepared to pay for that time (or equipment for that matter).
    – Clients who can’t recognize or don’t care about the quality of the work they publish.

    • @Bitter photographer,

      you are %100 right. especialiy about the 1,000,000,000.01 “photographers” (read: consumers/hobbyists) who buy digital cameras and suddenly they’re bargain-basement Richard Avedon.

  3. I consider myself an artist first, before I am an editorial or commercial shooter. Probably because I was an artist long before I started trying to make money at it. You can certainly be a photographer without “artistic passion” but, for me, there needs to be something more than just economics driving my creativity. I continue to shoot artistically even though I derive less income from it. Because it is personally satisfying, it’s time for me and not someone else. It’s necessary for me to remain creative and not fall into the hole of repetition and cookie-cutter production.

    I know some commercial photographers who admittedly do not understand or have any interest in “artsy fartsy” photography and are in the business as a business. In reality, these types of individuals could probably just as easily be in any other career. They don’t “need” to be a photographer whereas an artist, whether that person is creating “pure” art or commercial art, has a need through passion to be working in that medium for whatever reason.

    I know several artists who, once they became commercially famous, lost their desire to create because of the demands (through distributors/publishers) forcing them (through contracts) to create works that didn’t interest them personally or artistically but were commercially successful (to a broad market where once they were creating limited, high end works to a smaller, “more appreciative” audience). They were essentially “owned” by the companies they signed with. They made tons of money, but were artistically and personally unsatisfied because the work was less like art and more like work.

    The successful artist, in my mind, is one who can balance the capitalistic, profit maximizing demands of the marketplace with personal control of the work being produced (if a person wants to make money creating art). That means the individual has to take a stand for themselves, understand the marketplace and the demands it requires, to look at the longer view and not be blinded by perceived short term gains, to be in control of their own destiny.

    There are many, many people creating excellent art with no intention or desire to make money at it. They are creating art because it satisfies them in some way and that, in itself, is enough.