Art, Politics and the Question of Money

Who Decides?

Once society has decided how much it values art the next goal is to manage these ideals and find a way to give artists the freedoms needed to fully explore their creativity.

Although we live in a capitalist world art is one of the activities that receives funding from the state. There are several issues with state funded art. Firstly should public money be spent on this? I believe it should as art has more values to society than just monetary.

Secondly, what should the decision process to fund art be? Should art that is deemed of the “highest quality” be funded, art that benefits the public the most, or art that would struggle, for whatever reason, to be sold in a capitalist world?

The next issue is then, who should these decision makers be? Should they be some sort of consortium of artists, should it be experts in the field, or should we instead try to make the whole process more democratic and chosen by the people. Or could it instead depend on what the individual artists feel they need to carry out the work they want to do? Marx suggests that an ideal society would cater for each individual and their needs differently but equally. He believes it is in this that true equality lies. It is not about treating everyone the same but attending persons needs appropriately.

This would mean some receive funding, others support, others left alone, but for each the conditions would be created that allowed them to fully utilise their creative talents.

This concept is also echoed in business management theory, when working with creative people. Business organisations understand that to get the best from their employees they need to understand their differing needs and motivations. Businesses can do this for their employees but for a great number of artists, who are self employed, this support is not available.

If we, as a society, want to get the best from our artists, we need to find ways to support their creativity and achieve equality across the sector.


“… primary concern is with the free creative individual and that, through-out history, environments – including states – have been obstacles to individual.”- O’Manique

Artists can struggle selling their work within a society dominated by money. Its objectification and consumption can affect what, and how art is produced. However, if the maker wants to be able to support themselves and any dependants through their work, they generally have to make sales of some kind, either of their skills or work. This means playing the game of capitalism and learning how to win in this environment.

As a society we have a romantic vision of a maker as a tortured genius. They exist, honing their talent, in small, darkened rooms, until finally their immense talent is discovered; they overcome their crippling shyness and are placed on a stage to perform to the world. This mythical character can be seen in many western narratives, but is perhaps best portrayed by Jane Horrocks in Little Voice. It is perpetrated further by talent shows, such as the X factor, where candidates are plucked from obscurity and become fully-fledged stars in a matter of months. However, the myth is just that, a fabulous fairy story, adding to the aura of the performer but leaving the reality in a shroud.

Instead, many makers struggle and fail in a capitalist system that requires self-promotion, administration and business knowledge in order for their work to be seen or purchased. Many creative individuals feel uncomfortable with these processes. Some can hire in outside help and expertise but for others this is not possible. Even artists that find themselves capable of these administration tasks can find them a time consuming distraction from the art of making.

The art that is then available for public consumption is likely to have been produced by someone who has the characteristics that are best suited to work in a capitalist society. This means that the art the public sees is determined by our capitalist society as opposed to whether the public enjoys and appreciates it. This obsession with money favours people who can thrive in this environment whilst discriminating against others who do not have the inclination or aptitude to participate in the game. In art, as well as in many other areas, it restricts who and what is available for public consumption. This is considerably limiting our view and consumption of art and we as the consumers lose out most.

“Money is itself a kind of reductionism. It packs whole universes into a handful of coppers.”- Eagleton

A recent musicians’ union magazine bore the headline that for every £1 cut in arts funding £2 was lost to the economy in returns on this investment. This is itself false economy. However, what was not addressed, on the front page at least, was the other values art has to society.

To resolve the issue of funding makers purely for the sake of unleashing their creativity, the first question to be examined is how much we value art, and it’s makers, in our collective society? Culture and entertainment are big business in Britain and other developed, capitalist countries.

Art’s value is difficult to quantify. Most commonly people turn to record sales, the millions spent by collectors on artwork originals and how many copies of the latest novel have been sold. But, this only shows part of the picture. If we take money from the equation what else are we left with? This will be different for everyone and much harder to quantify in a way that can be usefully communicated. Some examples could be: comfort gained from a story, the euphoria of listening to your favourite band, and the excitement of watching the next hotly anticipated film. Is it possible, as some may argue to put a monetary value on these experiences? Surely the consumption of art is fundamentally incompatible with the exchange of currency.

Money in fact, in one way or another, reduces every moment of art to a single transaction of currency. It takes all of these emotions and in a prosaic way overrides every other value and feeling associated with the moment of expression. The experience is only there if the consumer has the funds to pay for it and feels it is worth the price asked for. This means before the maker and consumer even meet there has been a financial transaction that structures their relationship thereafter.

So the struggle is to come to a collective decision on how much society values art and find a way of funding this. This then removes the reductionist power of money from art, the makers and the consumers and in turn means art becomes equally available to all.


Money on the mind

This is a blog exploring the space and relationship between art, makers and money. The aim is to create an informative and wide-ranging debate including all political and personal opinions. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate…

“I keep my mind on my money, money on my mind”- Twista

Can people ever be truly creative in a capitalist system?

Is creativity compatible with the capitalist system of sales, markets and monetary value? Do artists thrive in this environment where everything is reduced to a monetary transaction or is this fundamentally limiting the creativity and production of our makers?

As with all commodities, it can be said that a purely capitalist system brings out the “best” in creativity by increasing competition. As the public consumes art, generating sales, a collective agreement on which direction art takes is decided upon. Who falls and who flies is dictated by the sales of their work. But, when makers such as artists, writers and musicians have the ever-present thought of appeasing a society dictated by markets could they ever fulfil their creative potential?

Does, in fact, the ever-present issue of money actually diminish the maker’s creativity? Some artists may enjoy the self-promotion, administration tasks and ultimate sales of their work, for others it can have crippling effects on their creativity. This in turn means they are not serving the public’s need for art to their highest potential. Perhaps a different society could be envisioned, one that values art and creativity so highly it finds a way to take the financial constraints from the makers and letting them engage in purely creative ends. Imagine a world that didn’t reduce every transaction, every piece of art to the common denominator of money. By removing art from the market and unshackling makers creativity, would this in fact lead to the advancement of art for everyone?

How artists feel about the sale of their work affects their production and resulting product. It raises the question of whether art should be seen as something that can be consumed and quantified in sales. I hope to explore some of these issues in further posts. Any thoughts, comments and criticisms would be most welcome.