11 March 2010

Industry vs. Culture

There’s a great moment in the Extras, comedy by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, where Andy Millman’s new high profile manager asks the actor and writer that do you want to make a lot of money or do you want to make credible critically acclaimed comedy – and how few manage to achieve both. It’s a key question for anyone who exists even anywhere near industries such as entertainment, media, music or cinema. What it is that you are after?

I am not here (at least in this post) to pass judgement on what’s better, but since I feel increasingly dissatisfied by the notion of measuring the value of art or culture, whatever it might mean, by the money it is able to generate, and that value to be further defined by the media, which itself seems to function on this exact principle as well. I think it’s worth to stop for a moment, breathe, take a step back and think about the dichotomy of industry and culture.

To me this is something that helps to make sense out of the industries I mentioned.

Think of music. Basically any music will do, but I will think about Hip-Hop. There are people across the world who have made a good life for themselves and become celebrated superstars whose life is owned by a corporation. A few became corporations themselves and many would love to. Other people want to communicate messages of hope and hopelessness, the happiness and struggle. But what’s important here, is that there’s a very clear and distinct aspect of business(wo)manhood as much as a strong emphasis on culture when it comes to this beloved artform.

These two different aspects are not mutually exclusive or even very common occurrences in their purest form, but they are the extreme ends of the spectrum leaving most things as shades of grey somewhere in the middle.

Most Hip-Hop practitioners are not famous or even living out of the art, but use it for other means such as expression. It prohably is more of an investment than a cash cow, at least for many years, and out of the ones who see the process through, a few makes P. Diddy money. In that way it's much like many sports; for instance football has many more kids playing in the parks than your Christian Ronaldos, David Beckhams or Didier Drogbas, so does the hip-hop culture have more non-profit making or nominal income (regardless of trying to earn more) practitioners than super stars that often are talked about in the media. Viewing culture purely economically tends to overlook the fact that mostly Hip-Hop is driven by something else. Even most of the established artists have a strong presence of both culture and industry in their function.

So what are you? An uncompromising artist or unf*ckgiving business person?

And does it matter?

I think it does matter, because you might not, as much as you may want to, be able to do both (or neither). Rarely are you able to sell something uncompromised to the masses. And like said, it really is not about being one or the other, but rather being somewhere on that spectrum that is between these extreme ends. For an artists it’s a simple question really – what is your motivation to do what you do? I don’t necessarily expect the answer to be short or simple.

Another thing I wouldn't imagine it to be is never changing. I am sure that even many who has started as asrtists from the heart have had to re-think; we all need to pay the bills so there definitely in this regard is no judgement from my side. For instance, the only way that I can do and write whatever I want here is that I have no expectation for that to cover my rent. But our stance with regards to our motives is ever changing and therefore should be subjected to constant questioning and analysis; what do I want today, rather than to assume that surely it's the same thing as ten years ago. Or even last week.

And there's nothing wrong with wanting to make money, just to know what it often entails.
It's not a question you have to answer publicly or print a T-shirt, with your statement - It's enough that you know yourself. When you are being true to yourself in what it is that you wish to achieve, you are on a more realistic ground to do so. As far as I can see, this is one of the core questions of what some refer to as an artistic integrity. And I don’t have an answer – only this question.

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