Sunday, November 15, 2009

Artistic Patronage

A couple of weeks ago there was an NPR story that I heard part of, but when I went to look it up later I couldn't find it anywhere online. Since then it's just been floating around in the back of my head. Instead of leaving it there, I figured I may as well share my half-thoughts on this half-story.

In this particular NPR interview, performer Amanda Palmer was discussing her practice of appealing directly to fans for monetary support. She wrote this post on her blog, arguing that artists shouldn't have to rely on a middleman. On the radio, the discussion veered more towards how such practices could affect the artistic integrity of the performer. While the idea of the 'starving artist' is a vaguely romantic notion, audiences might be less fond of the reality that those artists do require food, and money to buy that food. Though theoretically, if the audience members are the ones enjoying the art, then it only makes sense that they should also be the ones to support the artist.

The whole discussion really reminded me of something that happened while I was riding the subway last spring. It was a Saturday morning, and a young man stepped into the car with a cello and began playing. Unlike many of the roving entertainers who serenade passengers, this guy was incredibly talented and actually made the ride more enjoyable. Oddly, he did not have a hat or a cup or any other receptacle for money. Despite this absence, a woman took some bills from her purse and attempted to give them to him. He continued to play, completely ignoring her, and she finally slipped the bills between the strings and the neck of the cello. The musician still refused to acknowledge her. As he moved to get out of the train car, the money fell from the instrument. Again, he ignored the passenger who picked up the money and tried to hand it to him. Clearly he was not trying to profit off of his art.

So that incident was on my mind while I was listening to Amanda Palmer talking about auctioning off her possessions to fans in order to raise money. Does it lessen the art's worth to put such a direct monetary value on it? It seemed like the cellist thought so, based on how insistently he refused the proffered money. Personally, I think his reaction was a bit ridiculous. It would have been much less awkward if he had just accepted the $3. But if the point was to just play for the beauty of the music, then clearly he made his point. For Palmer, however, her art is also her business, and it's time that audiences accepted that.


B.Graham said...

I come across that issue every day as I drive to my office job.

Max Nova said...

I've probably said this before, but our national memory seems to basically start in '50s and so the way that people have been making money since then (albums sales, with some live revenue and a bit of licensing) is still pretty much the gospel.

I do see a few positives from the slow and eventual breakdown of music. The market will expand and evolve a lot fasster. Fans will have a better chance to buy in to art at the amount they want - do you a piece of Ms. "Fucking" Palmer's stuff? Do you want to get your name thanked in an artists next cd (by donating $100 to the recording cost)? Do you want a cd of the show you just attended? All these things are possible. And it becomes harder to steal when you change the nature of what you can buy.

I also hope it means an improvement in live shows across genres. Ms. "Fucking" Palmer (I do enjoy saying that) puts loads of effort into hers, and is rewarded by a dedicated fanbase.