Why we love art yet hate the artist has been an Industrial Age economic necessity
Have you considered where the line is between ‘starving artist’ and ‘sellout’ in today’s digital economy? Where everyone is an influencer and monetizing your friends is a common practice? From Instagram and digital storytelling to podcasts and live streaming a growing number of people are being driven towards creative expression to further their professional careers and simultaneous need for personal fulfillment. Unfortunately creative expression and industrial age economics do not have a healthy professional relationship.
People in pursuit of “creative ventures” have “earned a reputation over the centuries for being alcoholic manic-depressives”, noted Elizabeth Gilbert in her 2009 TED Talk. While the elusive nature of creative genius is certainly responsible for tormenting a fair share of artists–it is millennia of economic necessity that more deeply shapes our interdependent yet rather toxic relationship with the arts.
In 1776 philosopher Adam Smith noted that “very agreeable and beautiful talents” which command a “certain sort of admiration” when monetized were considered “a sort of public prostitution.” He observed that many people possess creative and beautiful talents of “great perfection who disdain to make” money from them and that “many more are capable of acquiring them, if anything could be made honourably by them.”
While it seems absurd to despise the artist while liberally rewarding their talents it has been an economic necessity of the Industrial Age. Smith explained that without this paradox too many people would attempt to monetize their creative talents and lower the value of artists while also distracting people from the important labor of the productive industrial economy.
With the advance of digital technologies over the past few decades this convenient yet uncomfortable economic idea has deteriorated to the point of crippling society. Economic focus on growth ruled by GDP production over social capital cultivation has objectified human care and compassion to the point that AI is being considered for lowering costs of elder care and children’s education.
While the digital economy literally runs on human creativity this Industrial Age subroutine plays havoc in society. The private sector objectifies creative talent crushing morale, while sex work evolves to provide companionship in an economic operating system that isolates individuals and ignores the value of genuine human connection.
We force individuals to monetize their talents and friendships for the convenience of economists who refuse to innately count societal value within the system. Instead, we must recognize big data as the digital manifestation of Smith’s ‘Invisible Hand’ that is not separate from the marketplace but in fact the matrix within which the market sits. We must #UpgradeEconomics to build a society that values the artist as well as their art.