Philip Pilkington: Econ for Pirates – Rescuing Art from the Clutches of the Megacorporations

By Philip Pilkington, a writer and journalist based in Dublin, Ireland. You can follow him on Twitter at @pilkingtonphil

I seen a lot of rappers turn soft, I turn my TV off (uh)
And thugs got commercials (yea) thugs in commercials (uh)
And everybody’s chick turned gladiator and shit
No pimps, no hustlers, yo where’s your whips
No Maybachs, no Lambos on the field
Towncar, ridin Music Express
You the best example, yo the industry is whack yo
Now you can bet your label and your Phantom on that
– Kool Keith ‘Bamboozled’

Daily, megacorporations shovel crap into our eyes and ears. There is no worse indictment for the so-called ‘free market’ – which is really just a few giant bureaucratic institutions – than the suppression of creativity in favour of the commoditised effluent of the corporate culture industry.

In truth the commoditised crap churned out by the great corporate machine is wholly reliant on creativity that emerges from the ground up. Today’s mainstream music scene relies on the hip hop and rap movements that emerged between the 1970s and the early 1990s in black communities in California and New York – needless to say that it is completely out of date but such is the stale nature of these institutions. Contemporary ‘alternative’ music feeds on the punk and post-punk scenes that emerged in Britain and the US in the late-70s and 80s – again, hopelessly out of date.

The great corporate machine simply sanitises and repackages culture in order to feed the masses through their tele-visual tubing. Fine. But it cannot truly create new flavours to inject into the tubes – and anyone who has an instinct to chase the new and the interesting will be quickly turned off. Put simply: corporate capitalism produces many things well – from clothing to furniture (although the question of style once again arises when we examine these in any serious way) – but it cannot produce true art. An alternative mechanism is needed.

Many have come to see this. People have discovered that the internet can provide them far more effectively with their cultural sustenance, so they take out the corporate tubing and logon. But this creates problems.

Stirrings of an Alternative

The economist Dean Baker outlined an alternative some time ago. He calls it the ‘artistic freedom voucher’. An excellent and detailed primer can be found here. Basically, taxpayers fork over money to their favourite artists and in return get tax credits. So, they pay their favourite artists some of the money that should have gone to the government in tax payments. The music would then be published under a ‘creative commons license’ that would allow everyone to access it for free.

Okay great. But this means that the government receives less money because the tax credits are ‘cashed in’ by people donating to the arts. This means that the government receives less revenue. Some have suggested that we offset this with taxes levied on digital audio equipment, blank CDs and internet connections. I have absolutely no problem with this. However, there is, once again, an alternative: we could run the system as a stimulus program and supplement it with an ambitious attempt to publicly subsidise institutions that artists could work in free from corporate influence at little personal cost.

Stimulating Creativity

Across the world today governments have been forced to run massive deficits in order to keep economies ticking over as private sector spending falls. Many of us would prefer that governments increase this spending in order to counter the unemployment that currently plagues most advanced capitalist countries.

Modern Monetary Theorists (MMTers) point out that governments that issue their own currencies can run such stimulus indefinitely until inflationary pressures build which will only happen after recovery takes place. They cite Japan as an example who, having stimulated their economy for over 20 years after the bursting of a private sector debt bubble in 1991, still have not encountered any problems with amassing government debts to the tune of 220% of GDP.

Countries that do not issue their own currencies have problems with large debt burdens – as is shown in certain Eurozone countries at the moment. However, either some formal mechanism is going to have to be put in place to allow these countries to run deficits or the Eurozone itself will collapse in the next few years.

(It is not difficult to fix the Eurozone problem. Although this is not the place to discuss such solutions – of which there are many – suffice it to say that the Eurocrats are well aware of what they can do but are being blocked by political pressures, mainly coming from the current German and French governments and their allies).

What we should do is build the ‘artistic freedom voucher’ into the deficits as a stimulus program. This has been done before in a slightly cruder way. During the Great Depression the Roosevelt administration used the works program they had put in place (the WPA) to channel money to artists. Many artists took part and it was a great success. (For music buffs it should be noted that Woody Guthrie received funding, who would later go on to exert a huge influence over Bob Dylan).

The ‘artistic freedom voucher’ is more consumer friendly, however, in that people are allowed to choose which artists they give their tax credits to. In this it allows greater consumer choice. However, it could be supplemented by a WPA-style compensation fund for new and emerging artists. After all, many a would-be artist might be intimidated by the prospect of having to attract funding to set themselves up, so perhaps we could have a pool out of which to subsidise them for the first, say, 12 months of their career until they can build a fan base for their material.

Through such a stimulus program we could also open public recording studios, public art studios, public filmmaking studios and other facilities that anyone could use for a very small fee. We could do all this in a highly decentralised manner, allowing artists, engineers, directors and producers full control of setting these facilities up while government representatives merely keep an eye on their funding to ensure they’re spending reasonable amounts.

The Politics

This piece was originally written, of course, for the pirates. For those unfamiliar, the pirates are a successful and promising political party that have taken root in Germany and other countries. They have a membership of 24,000 and are growing. They are particularly concerned with many of the issues outlined above.

The pirate political model is perfect for instituting the above reforms. It is through political piracy that the above reforms can be implemented. By supporting these reforms the pirates will no longer be subject to criticism that they are hurting artists and producers. Instead they will be supporting a system where artists can throw off the corporate shackles and embrace their inner potential.

Starting with the arts we can then move on to other areas such as drug patents. Why not have governments subsidise drug research? Rather than having corporations prey on their customers in search of profits – while in the process producing sometimes dangerous drugs with dubious medical value – we can leave it up to the scientists and keep the patents under creative commons, to be used by humanity when needed.

The piracy movement has already taken shape in places like Germany and Sweden, but this should be pushed further. By adopting a real platform based on MMT principles they can start to expand to other countries by encouraging disillusioned young people who support the public good over corporate greed to form pirate parties of their own.

Corporate Shills in Libertarian Clothing

There are, of course, arguments against such proposals. Corporate shills like J. Mark Stanley say that it restricts freedom of choice which, according to him, only the Great God of The Market can provide. Most people with any sense aren’t fooled by Stanley’s theological rhetoric. They know that The Market doesn’t exist in the way Stanley imagines that it should – that is, as a great equaliser that guarantees freedom of choice.

(I’m not going to link to Stanley’s article due to its horrific, robot-prose and juvenile argument. Interested readers can find it for themselves.)

In reality we live in a world where corporations control much of the decisions of production. These corporations operate in oligopolistic or monopolistic fashion. Personally, I don’t think it can be otherwise. Mass production on the scale that modern societies require necessitates huge manufacturing plants and institutions to assist in distribution. It’s really a simple issue of economies of scale – the more of a product is produced, the bigger need be the producing institutions.

Now, that’s fine for producing cell phones and sunglasses, but we simply cannot trust these institutions with other public goods – especially art. Anyone that is not content with the current output of MTV must see the point being made here clearly and shun utopia and childish libertarian rhetoric.

Personally, I know an awful lot of professional artists (I’m an amateur musician myself) and I know well how difficult they find it to survive. Many musicians I know are pressed into destroying their own output and creativity so as to play crappy popularised songs in bars just to make ends meet. Together with the corporate audio-visual tube-feeding system that many of us have in our homes, this is the reality of the ‘market’ insofar as it functions at all. The winner is the participant with the most advertising, PR and corporate monopoly-backing. Like it or lump it, that’s reality. Anyone who believes otherwise is merely a fantasist who has an emotional need for a quasi-religious doctrine – these people generally have no political influence because practical people laugh at them and shun them.

Let’s get to work on eking out a free space for our artists to operate in – a creative space, that is at the same time a commons.

The political forces are aligning, now all we need is the correct approach toward policy. The first thing we must do is to remove the fiscal shackles that bind the minds of most politicians and recognise that, in today’s world, government deficits are a good thing – and it is only a case of channelling funding in the right direction.

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  1. Bill

    We recently took a trip across the country and were forced to watch tv in all the Holiday Inn Expresses and other corporate box hotels and motels where we stayed.

    Different channel lineups, different remote controls, different commercials, the same vastness of interstellar
    nothingness, the infomercials, the basketball games, the spitting athletes, weather, hot rod channel, Hallmark Channel mysteries, the atheletic women working out, the tractor pulls, polyester suited Jesus hooters, important local nobodies, cream in the coffee race neutral presenters, car sales whatever…and then it hit us after ten days…something was missing.

    In ten days we never HEARD OR SAW ONE STORY ABOUT IRAQ OR AFGHANISTAN. It’s as though they did not exist…talking maybe 25 hours of television here.
    Anyone else notice this in their travels?

    1. Anonymous Jones

      What is the concrete relevance of Iraq or Afghanistan to your life? How much would you have heard about either region a hundred years ago? Why do *you* think it’s so important? Why do *you* think so many of those who share your community do not think it’s important? Is it possible that they are right and you are wrong? Is it possible at all?

      I happen to think foreign relations are important. I accept that I’m in the minority. The vast minority.

      I also happen to like the NBA (and toned, female athletes working out on TV, for that matter…sorry, I consider that nature rather than nurture, I might be wrong…it’s possible).

      [As for PP’s thoughts on creative and artistic rights and whether there is any Lockean or any other “moral” theory on this issue and how it should be resolved vis-a-vis governmental credits, income supplements and/or ultimate creative control, one word … “Ugghhh….”]

      1. wunsacon

        >> What is the concrete relevance of Iraq or Afghanistan to your life?

        Jones, wasting our tax dollars to kill innocent people in our names has more “concrete relevance” to our lives than “the infomercials, the basketball games, the spitting athletes, weather, hot rod channel, Hallmark Channel mysteries, the atheletic women working out, the tractor pulls, polyester suited Jesus hooters, important local nobodies, cream in the coffee race neutral presenters, car sales whatever”.

      2. Philip Pilkington

        “As for PP’s thoughts on creative and artistic rights and whether there is any Lockean or any other “moral” theory on this issue…”

        Lockean theory on artistic creativity? Don’t know what you’ve been reading, dude. This is about alternative funding. Not ‘morality’ or private property rights.

    2. Consumer Artwork

      I wonder what Dick Shelby will do, all the realtor lobbyin’ groups, and the Banksters/Shakedown artists start lyin’ about “Oh NO!, we won’t be able to hand out them loans if you infringe upon us”. What a bunch of well paid drones!
      Call Dick and let him know Banksters need restraints:
      Washington D.C.
      304 Russell Senate Office Building
      Washington, DC 20510
      p: (202) 224-5744

  2. Middle Seaman

    A model of art supported without the shackles is way too naive. Who defines what art is and what isn’t? This question will show up frequently and will cause those outside the art mainstream to be excluded from the support artists need.

    Corporations may be the worse Arbiters of art, but there will always be a guard at the gate. For instance, somebody will say that “Contemporary ‘alternative’ music feeds on the punk and post-punk scenes that emerged in Britain and the US in the late-70s and 80s – again, hopelessly out of date.” Music you don’t appreciate, or know, is not necessarily out of date.

    Mind you, I am for full support for the art. I think the WPA art work was ingenious. Yet, don’t for a moment believe that such a system doesn’t exclude or censor.

    1. Philip Pilkington

      That’s why if you don’t agree with me you can give the alt bands your tax credit. I’ll give mine to someone else. The consumer is king here, you see?

      1. Christophe


        An interestingly timed funding idea. Now that “the cutting edge” sounds like the hackneyed parody of 70’s and 80’s socialites it always was, “socially relevant” art can rise supreme to its natural domination of the art scene. Until, that is, it begins to sound like an outdated buzzword in desperate search of a trendier successor. As an artist, the social relevance gimmick always sounded a bit too simple and formulaic to me, though I did work it to get funding. While I would love for it to be retired in the dustbin of overly reductive ideals, I have serious reservations about replacing it with a popularity contest among consumers.

        Your funding proposal may come from a similar dissatisfaction with gimmicky hot buttons too easily co-opted by corporate interests, but the popularity contest you are proposing may have just as many drawbacks. “Most popular” could be the new “cutting edge”.

        There will always be cultural catch phrases to help guide less savvy social climbers, like lemmings, to the hottest new precipices. And marketers to fan their fears of one day hearing “Didn’t you know, Darling, the cliff you ran off was so last year.” Let’s not make “most popular” the next “in” cliff. Imagine what a creativity-crushing master perpetually chasing popularity would be.

    2. Jojo Shakespeare

      Middle Seaman: I completely agree with you.

      It there were a popular musical group that was well-versed in polyrhythms and decent intonation, then I may consider that group to be forwarding our art today, but most of the popular music of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, through today are poorly written and performed.

      Just because a “artist” or group are popular (through the internet, word-of-mouth, or corporate promotion) doesn’t make them important in the history of art.

      Do we really want our tax dollars to be sponsoring the latest craze in slam dance or Christian music—and you can bet that will be where the dollars go: Christian music.

      Sorry Yves, I agree with you 99% of the time, but the definition of art is very, very ambiguous. How about we institute something like the grant program in Great Britain, in which people receive grants for furthering their educations. Many people have been able to outfit themselves with musical studios through this program.

      1. Philip Pilkington

        I don’t think you understand the proposal. YOU decide where YOUR tax money goes. If you don’t want slam dance you don’t give your tax credit to slam dance, you give them to someone else.

        Also, I wrote the above piece. And I didn’t ‘define’ art in it.

  3. SidFinster

    Why is art these days so corporate? Because there is money to be made in it.

    When the music business became sufficiently profitable, it became too big to be left to the amateurs, to the Leonard Chesses or Sylvia Robinsons, (who in an earlier life was also “Sylvia” from “Mickey and Sylvia”).

    Professional managers manage, well, professionally.

  4. ebear

    >>Personally, I know an awful lot of professional artists (I’m an amateur musician myself) and I know well how difficult they find it to survive. Many musicians I know are pressed into destroying their own output and creativity so as to play crappy popularised songs in bars just to make ends meet.<<

    Nobody's "pressing" anyone here. This is just supply and demand working its old magic. Or are "artists" somehow exempt from that?

    Anyway, isn't that how it's supposed to work? Life chews you up, spits you out and maybe, just maybe, something profound comes out of it? The odds are against it of course, which begs the question…. why would anyone choose that as a career, much less carp about it when it doesn't work out?


    1. Philip Pilkington

      The music industry is monopolistic. Supply and demand hardly functions at all. They don’t even ‘scout’ anymore, really. They just create the bands ‘in house’. Sometimes they do so on television so that the commoners can gawk. It is not a real market anymore. But then, it never was.

      1. ebear

        >>The music industry is monopolistic.<> Supply and demand hardly functions at all.<>They don’t even ‘scout’ anymore, really. They just create the bands ‘in house’. Sometimes they do so on television so that the commoners can gawk. It is not a real market anymore. But then, it never was.<<

        So just TURN IT OFF. There's a huge number of new artists releasing on indy labels, or putting stuff up on bittorrent, youtube, etc. Most of it's dross, but that's what you get when the door's wide open.

        My friends and I produced electronic and "new wave" music all through the 80's and 90's. You never heard of us because we weren't interested in playing the Big Top. Our audience was local – clubs, raves, the occasional radio spot. We did it for love of the art and financed it with our day jobs, in my case driving a truck. Even back then there was a plethora (gawd, I've been waiting all year to use that word!) of independent studios and labels. The situation's even better today.

        The major labels are doing us a favor by clinging so desperately to their stash. All that does is drive the marginal listener into the arms of the indys. Likewise, suing people for sampling Mickey J. created a whole new genre of sampling that didn't depend on 5 seconds of some big name noise. Banco de Gaia for example. Brilliant stuff and no copyright, unless of course some Tibetian monks decide to sue…lol.

        Seriously, what a bunch of sour grapes. And almost 20 years into the internet, no less! The great leveler, not just of access, but of taste as well…LOL!

        I'll close with a quote from one of our local legends, the great Maurice Pooby:

        If it's bringing you down,
        If it's making you frown
        Then just stop listening
        It's only music

        PS: Musicians are the biggest F'in whiners around, and I just proved it!

  5. K Ackermann

    You want to make life easier for artists? But then what kind of art would they produce? You know why good bands break up? And look what happened to poor Kurt Cobain when money was thrown at him.

    Seriously, though, I think this kind of alternative thinking is great, but there should be a way to incorporate the good aspects of capitalism and the market to increase the chances of adoption and of viability.

    Using the above example of developing new drugs, the incentives need to be put in the right places. If a regulation was passed which put a wall between drug R&D, and drug manufacturing, then a virtuous dynamic can emerge.

    Drug R&D companies could propose to develop new drugs by petitioning the government for the funds (government currently subsidizes 48% of R&D). These companies wouldn’t care how many pills are sold – they exist to develop new drugs, presumably as many as they can. The development of drugs for less popular diseases would suddenly get serious consideration.

    Then, the government would take the patent and put it in public escrow and liscense the formula to drug manufacturers. The government would recoup to outlay over time, and market forces would work their magic in manufacturing as the pill builders found more and more economical ways to manufacture pills.

    No branding would be nessesary (or possible).

    The public would get more, and probably better drugs for a fraction of the cost being paid today, and the whole thing is sustainable.

    1. ScottS

      There’s nothing you can do to stop the Club 27ers (Curt Kobain, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, etc). from doing what they do. They were always going to make it big and burn out early.

      What PhilPil is proposing would make art a more stable career choice for those of us who aren’t on the margins. I always wanted to be a writer, but chose engineering to make a living. Using Baker’s system would allow people other than the obsessed Jack Kerouacs and the corporate schlock Dan Browns to write, which I’m all for.

  6. Tom Crowl

    Good recognition of the problem made by Mr. Pilkington.

    And an interesting approach to solution. However a simpler, more comprehensive tool is needed.

    I believe catalyzing the user-owned and governed donor network will accomplish these ends more cleanly.

    The speech related micro-transaction (networked citizen lobbying via easily made, one-click small contributions) in addition to shifting the political landscape away from its current focus on corporate and ‘wealth donor’ funding…

    Catalyzes a network able to organize support for other endeavors as well…

    Its the mechanism allowing Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans to become a reality.

    Leveling the Transaction Landscape: Technology and the Campfire

    1. Bev

      Didn’t that megaupload megadownload fellow (Name?) from New Zealand get illegally raided once he decided to cut out the middle man music promotion corporations from taking a big slice of the money and a big slice of the decisions about the type of music promoted, by creating (or about to create) a site that would pay musicians directly for any internet purchases? Then he was raided.

  7. jsmith

    “These corporations operate in oligopolistic or monopolistic fashion. Personally, I don’t think it can be otherwise. Mass production on the scale that modern societies require necessitates huge manufacturing plants and institutions to assist in distribution. It’s really a simple issue of economies of scale – the more of a product is produced, the bigger need be the producing institutions.”

    Um, maybe this is where your problem lies, huh?

    Just as art “consumers” are given a limited range of choices and you bemoan this fact, here you show that you do the same thing with your own economic thinking.

    Yes, the system sucks but we always will have to have the system, eh?

    This is why people think you waste people’s time, PP, with your thinly veiled endorsements of the establishment.

    A tinker here, an MMT there and the system can be made whole again.

    It’s the only “realistic” solution, doncha know, so quit dreaming people and help us tinker.

    Just as the discussion last week about voting in an inverted totalitarian society showed that most understood that it didn’t and that a much more radical and system ending solution needed to be formulated, so do conversations about the inevitable co-opting of art in any of its form as it attempts to say something in said inverted totalitarian society.

    Our economic/political systems inevitably destroy art by perverting its aims and thus making it just another commodity to be speculated on.

    That is the inherent nature of our system, a design not a flaw.

    Until you realize this, you’re just treading water.

    Further, there is now evidence that US intelligence agencies were behind the success of many of the most famous artists of the 20th century – e.g., Pollock, DeKooning, etc – so you can see the problem is a little more grave and more pervasive than you seem to want to admit.

    I mean, think about that: the entire New York School of painting was subsidized, promoted and therefore created by the CIA to be a mark of American superiority in its struggle against the USSR.

    Do you think this practice ended with the end of the Cold War?

    Did the defense industry curl up and die at the end of the Cold War?

    No, PP, you must come to the conclusions that art in our society – other than that which is made for local, “folky” consumption – is dead and that artists who enjoy any modicum of national success should wear that success as Soviet artists wore their Stalin Prize pins generations ago.

    It sucks but, you know what?

    All manners of life suck under an inverted totalitarian system.

    1. Susan the other

      The ‘CIA’ appropriated art, movies, music and used them not just to defeat totalitarian countries, but to create a modern identity of for the US. The reason is that art is a very effective form of communication and it can be used to confuse or enhance language. The Soviets did it too. All those gigantic posters of Lenin and hard working Russians. Now that we have decided not to kill each other, Russia has become subtle, and we have become idiotic. But this sounds like a renaissance idea. I like it. Free art from corporate constraints and exploitation. Let’s see what grass-roots, crowd-funded art creates for us. Not that the CIA won’t be in there from the get-go. But still, it’s a good idea. I like the spinoff for a rescue of the drug R&D industry.

      1. jsmith

        Being an artistic person and having thought about this for a while my questions have come down to this – and I don’t necessarily have the answers:

        Is art a necessity to society or is it a luxury?

        What happens when that society is a totalitarian society?

        What of the purpose and uses of art then?

        Is art and the art world by necessity then manipulated to harness any radical, free-thinkers that would otherwise question the system?

        If yes, does that mean that “true” artists should abandon their craft and begin the real fight to destroy the society that has stolen their craft?

        Basically in America, being an artist is a binary proposition: either you’re broke or you’re commodified.

        With choices like that, I think that there needs be some serious soul-searching in the art world.

        What about an artistic “general strike”?

        Everyone automatically pooh-poohs the examination of many of these ideas because of the assumption that art is intrinsically linked to society and that a society can NEVER question our need to create art.

        Given the times and the newly manifested inverted totalitarianism which we struggle under, thinking that calls into question many of our cherished tenets needs to occur as those tenets are used as weapons against us by said elite.

        1. Susan the other

          I agree with everything you just said. And for all I know, art itself is the process of definition. And I do know I love it.

        2. SR6719

          smith: “Basically in America, being an artist is a binary proposition: either you’re broke or you’re commodified…”

          Excellent comments.

          One example of a commodified “artist” is Damien Hirst.

          I’ve mentioned Hirst in a comment once before, in reference to an installation he assembled in a Mayfair (London) gallery that was dismantled and discarded the same night by a cleaning man who said he thought it was garbage.

          The work – a collection of half-full coffee cups, ashtrays with cigarette butts, empty beer bottles, a paint-smeared palette, an easel, a ladder, paintbrushes, candy wrappers and newspaper pages strewn about the floor was supposed to be the centerpiece of an exhibition for a V.I.P. preopening party.

          Hirst’s work is the example par excellence of what Allan Kaprow once called “work…located in activities and contexts that don’t suggest art in any way.” (“Brushing my teeth…. in the morning when I’m barely awake” was Kaprow’s example of such an activity.)

          An activity that’s clearly banal enough to be mistaken for Damien Hirst’s kind of post-art.

          Of course Hedge fund managers consider Hirst to be a great artist (because this is what art dealers tell them) and so they pay millions for installations such as his dead shark in formaldehyde.

          Another example of a commodifed artist is Christophe Ofili and his “Madonna”, an art work adorned with elephant turds (supposedly symbolic of Ofili’s African heritage), or someone like Mike Bidlo, who has no artistic identity of his own and exists only through his parodic appropriations of Pollack and Picasso… and so forth..

        3. Philip Pilkington

          “Basically in America, being an artist is a binary proposition: either you’re broke or you’re commodified…”

          Damn, I guess that means that my mind has been colonised too. Here’s me thinking one of my all time favourite films is ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”. But then, it’s got Brad Pitt in it. And he’s not broke. So I guess the film is pretty much the cultural equivalent to a Happy Meal toy.

          Also, the soundtrack — my personal favourite soundtrack to any film ever — is by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Cave ain’t broke. Must have sold out to The Man, I guess…

          1. SR6719

            So Brad Pitt stars in your favorite film?

            That’s actually better than I expected. If I had to guess I probably would’ve said your favorite film was “Pretty Woman” starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.

        4. K Ackermann

          I’m not an artist, and I say art is absolutely nessesary to a functioning society. Art is as much about the communication of new ideas as it is about aesthetics.

          Nothing stimulates the imagination like art. I believe that the braoder your mind is, the deeper your appreciation for art can be.

          I can’t draw, sing, or write well, but I can be moved to tears by the creative works of others.

          Art is nessesary, but it doesn’t fit into capitalism very well. There’s something both sad and hopeful in that.

  8. jsmith

    Again not to belabor my point but let’s look at these two statements you made:

    “Daily, megacorporations shovel crap into our eyes and ears.”

    “These corporations operate in oligopolistic or monopolistic fashion. Personally, I don’t think it can be otherwise.”

    So, people should listen to any of what you have to say as you basically endorse allowing a system which literally and figuratively shovels crap into our minds and bodies to continue?

    We shouldn’t fundamentally want to destroy a system that does such things?

    Cowardly acquiescence is not really a call to arms no matter how prolix and/or scholarly you make it out to be.

      1. jsmith

        Yes, yes, the undoubtedly glib and too clever by half response.

        I guess people who have thought long and hard upon the current situation and come to the conclusion that the system we live under is completely unacceptable as concerns the continuance of the human species should just shut up and listen to some vouchered music and try and forget that at the core of the system that oppresses us there is the threat of violence and death.

        Does PP think that it’s an accident that the more free-thinking and radical members of society – aka, artists – are often barely able to survive?

        That it’s just a coincidence that the system would starve out those elements of society which might cause people to think differently about said society?

        That the art world across all media has become a glorified competition – a la The Hunger Games(loaded reference) – in which “winners” are paraded in front of the public so as to prompt more freethinking radicals to starve themselves thus rendering them more ineffectual in the overall discourse as to the direction/tenor of the society as a whole?

        PP, I’m sorry – maybe it’s becasue you’re not in America – but you have a much too benevolent/naive take on the society in which you find yourself in that due to being labeled a radical/conspiratorial you won’t see that behind the facade of “fixability” there exists raw unbridled fascist oppression with real powers to hurt and or kill subjects that stray too far out of line.

        1. Sophie

          jsmith: “Does PP think that it’s an accident that the more free-thinking and radical members of society – aka, artists – are often barely able to survive?”

          Pilkington’s thought is so depressingly harmless and conventional, it makes the Partridge Family look like Maoist guerrillas.

        2. Philip Pilkington

          Are you suggesting that some nefarious group in society might be trying to starve artists? Hmmm… I wonder what Damien Hirst would say…

      2. Nathanael

        PP, I don’t look forward to it, I think it’s a bad idea, but the fact is… given current trends you probably WILL be talking after the revolution.

  9. bulfinch

    You know — I think, particularly starting out, an artist or a band really *needs* to scrape…keep a little hunger on. As crass as it might sound, I think that brand of suffering is one of the key ingredients to good art. I’m not romancing poverty or saying it isn’t a real problem; but problem solving is at the very root of the creative process.

    1. Philip Pilkington

      This seems to me a very recent idea. Historically artists always had their patrons. Maybe Hollywood made us think that it should be otherwise and that artists need to suffer?

      1. c s

        didn’t Mikey Angel punch the Pope in the nose? didn’t Rocky II cover over Diego Rivera’s mural? Didn’t MOMA turn down Duchamp so he took his act to Philly? As the lady said, “there are no saints in the art world”… but, hey, I’ll leave sainthood to guys like Jesse Helms.

      2. bulfinch

        PP says: “This seems to me a very recent idea. Historically artists always had their patrons. Maybe Hollywood made us think that it should be otherwise and that artists need to suffer?”

        I don’t know. Barton Fink springs to mind and it was not a very compelling argument.

        No, as counterintuitive as it feels to suggest such a thing, I think struggling artists are more interesting artists. In fact, I find this a readily perceptible phenomenon, in both the litany of artists who never grasped the brass ring but still managed to punch above their weight, and the artists who did and ended up tottering around stage in veneers and crappy shirts. Hunger and the turmoils of poverty suck. But they are very very often good for art.

        And anyway, some artists still have their patrons, but in place of the Medicis, there are rich wives. See Tal Farlow (who retired shortly after)

        1. K Ackermann

          Struggle and artist go hand in hand. I don’t want to hear a song about 401k’s – I want to hear a song about the poor sod getting the girl. Or better yet – smashing the system.

    2. nikhil

      As a professional artist I can tell you anecdotally and historically you are misinformed. Many artists in the past have come from wealthy and middle class families who could help support them while they attempted to make a name for themselves. Or they have been given funding by the state for eample many American artists after the WPA. A lot of our notions about struggling tortured visual artists come from Van Gogh who did inded live that life.

      In reality though Toulose Lautrec cam from an artistocratic family. Matisse was the son of a wealthy merchant. Michael Asher’s mother was a famous gallerist.

      I can speak anecdotally as well. Most of my friends who are really successful visual artists at a young age have come from very wealthy families. It allows them to have the time to dedicate to production and practice as well as the connections to push their work. This is to take nothing away from their work or to say they do not deserve it. Many of them work very hard. Those from more modest backgrounds tend to take longer to establish themselves. Those who are actually poor have an even smaller chance of making it. Not only because of economic circumstances, but becasue of social barriers created by class differences.

      I know I am speaking of mostly visual artists but friends ofmine who are musicians and have played or spent time with famous rock bands could report similar stories.

      I don’t want to diminish the fact that having something to say is important to an indivduals practice. Often this comes form a an internal or social struggle. Without some kind of public support for artists it makes it difficult for those who don’t come from wealthy backgrounds to have the time to create. Which is actually the most important part to making art. Not struggle.

      I think PP mentioning both rap and punk rock is interesting. Both were created as the social safety net was begining to be rolled back in the US. Maybe the most recent time when those of lower incomes may have been able to subsist and create art simultaneously in this country.

  10. Kinkade Schlock

    “The richest individuals and corporations have shown little regard for the majority of Americans who depend on sound financial management for their economic security. ”

    Well written mr Buchheit! When the folk get broke, the folk get creative, and then they avoid the crap, the greasy drenched instant consumer gratification. It’s all a lie, middle class mortgage fraud indeed. Freedom!

  11. Rob C.

    “Mass production on the scale that modern societies require necessitates huge manufacturing plants and institutions to assist in distribution. It’s really a simple issue of economies of scale – the more of a product is produced, the bigger need be the producing institutions.”

    This, specifically, is changing in regards to art. Anything which can be accurately rendered via a computer has a cost to reproduce approaching zero. Right now, that’s primarily audio-visual, as is most art, but the advance of 3d printers will allow for individuals to print at least small or componentized physical pieces cheaply. The hard part anymore is mostly finding your audience.

    Personally, I buy a lot of music, and haven’t purchased a physical disc in five years or so. I don’t buy from the “megacorporate” industry–I buy small independent label music and even individuals selling their stuff through sites like bandcamp. My purchasing habits alone make me wonder whether this system would really work as a stimulus, since I can only think of one artist offhand that’s in the US (that I know of, anyway) that I purchase music by.

  12. Shards

    Great takes on this:

    The main engine of most “successful artists” today is not a quest for beauty or a desire to perfect talent but rather to produce commodities for speculation.

    A young artist cannot build a reputation unless they are artificially assisted based on speculation. Thus a business model influences artistic styles and vice versa.

    Who are the speculators? They are not artists-but rather-hustlers following a business driven model based on gambling, self-promotion and hype, similar to certain aspects of the stock market. These promoters add zero value to the art, but plenty of zeros to the price and parasitically skim profit from the work of the artist and gullibility of the buyer.

    Just as consumerism promotes the value of the new and discards that of the old, so do these art promoters. True artistic talent is rare and by the time it is developed the artist is usually mature and experienced and less subject to, or willing to tolerate, victimization.

    Therefore, to produce a large number of marketable artists, the promoter must turn to the young for the new and novel and standards must be lowered to accommodate them.

    1. bulfinch

      “…[M]ost of the popular music of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, through today are poorly written and performed.”

      Yeah? Charles Mingus? Duke Ellington? They didn’t suck.

      1. K Ackermann

        Ridiculous comment. Was there something special in the water back then? Ellington would be in awe of Metallica today.

        1. JerryDemim

          Metallica today or did you mean Metallica in 1986?

          Interesting you bring up Metallica, I think they are kind of the poster child for rebel artist turning greedy mainstream and corporate. Let the lazy old bums tour if they want the money to keep flowing. There’s billions of dollars and millions of hungry fans in Latin America who just heard about them yesterday.

  13. Ed

    Historically, art was funded by wealthy people and the church. Period. There were periods of high creativity and periods of not much going on artistically at all, and this seems to have been tied to the tastes of wealthy people and the amount of surplus wealth available to pay for art. Nor was there much distinction made between artists and craftsmen.

    Now in the nineteenth and twentieth century, things were different as you had a boom in real wealth due to exploitation of fossil fuels, plus a middle class that could support art in aggregate. There was more art, done in more different styles, much of it anti-establishment and even more of it posing as such.

    Now if the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries turn out anomalies we are back to wealthy patrons (and the church?), plus you usually get periods of artistic stagnation after outbursts of creativity. But none of this is an argument for the ridiculous U.S. patent/ copyright regime, which no doubt requires reform, or at least moving back to where it was a few decades ago, for other reasons.

  14. Cuttin N' Pastin Addiction

    “Justice is now justice for corporations,” he went on. “Anybody who interferes with the corporations, who interferes with their profits, who interferes with their rights, will become labeled ‘terrorists.’ They become people we need to get rid of. Judges, politicians and lawyers all feed at the same corporate trough. And that is why their decisions increasingly are corporate decisions.” – C hedges

    1. Gundar

      Bad writing and overrated authors? What the Fluffington Post recommends?

      Basically anything you have to read in a “_____ studies” program.

      If you want to laugh out loud just pick up the assigned reading for a gender studies program in a college
      bookstore. Want befuddlement? Film studies and theory textbooks as well as semiotics. There’s a vast universe of recommended reading and an intellectual black hole out there, although those that degree in such things do make pretty swirls on your lattes.

      Susan Sontag, “The White race is the cancer of history…”

      Cancer, “Susan Sontag is history”

  15. nowhereman

    “Daily, megacorporations shovel crap into our eyes and ears. There is no worse indictment for the so-called ‘free market’ – which is really just a few giant bureaucratic institutions – than the suppression of creativity in favour of the commoditised effluent of the corporate culture industry.”
    One must be careful about just how far down this rabbit hole one ventures.
    Once you start questioning the “cultural norms” we are indoctrinated with on a daily basis, and the source of said indoctrinization, it opens a floodgate of doubt about everything you are “told to believe”.
    Once you open this box, it becomes difficult to put the lid back on.
    Personally, for me, anyone who provokes the questioning of your current belief systems, is the only true artist.
    Thus, Yves is a true artist.
    Pilkington, not so much, because he seems to believe that the current system somehow can be tweeked to work.

  16. Susan the other

    My comment got lost. It was this. Artists, being free spirits, make excellent squatters. Has anyone been to Tacheles, in Berlin? An artist community that took over an old war ruin and became a big tourist attraction? And at the same time made a political statement about life. It reclaimed a rubble-of-a-building and even built its own theater, the Volksbuhne, out of junk and scrap, with lights in tin cans strung with extension cords. So it’s this reclamation aspect of art that interests me. Like the earth reclaims itself. And speaking of the earth, I’d really like to see an artists approach to reclaiming the environment. Except for radioactive waste, of course. That really is a job for the military.

  17. nihil obstet

    We need a guaranteed minimum income. When your economic system has at its heart a mechanism of social control, your art will be socially controlled — no surprise. Other problems would remain; an artist who simply wants to do his/her own art could live and do it. We’d still argue about the fairness of the great artistic commodity producers getting rich while the true artist just has the minimum decent life, but that’s trivial compared to the issues of freedom to create. And we would need to develop methods and institutions for endeavors that require expensive facilities.

    Nonetheless, the total absence in this conversation of any ideas about freeing the individual from control by major institutions is distressing. It was a serious political and economic topic back in the 60s and 70s.

  18. Eureka Springs

    A couple of small points. I would suggest taxing the internet is a very bad idea. Furthermore I think the internet is the problem these days. I can’t buy a CD any other way. Music stores are non existent … except for a garage sale or thrift shop. It now costs 3.00 for domestic shipping of a used CD via Amazon. Or about 7.00 (10.00 a gig) for the bandwidth alone needed to download an album.

    Music is now an expensive form of art via the net when one considers all costs. Also, with high priced bandwidth and throttling (which I call choking) I must refrain from downloading large files. I’m sure this is a new impediment/consideration for many people nowadays.

    For these reasons I used to purchase a couple hundred albums a year or more… now it’s closer to a couple dozen.

    What we need is a wide open, tax free, choke free, unlimited fiber internet at a flat affordable for all rate in the US… and we need it yesterday. This would truly unleash artists and consumers on so many levels.

    Matt Stoller hit this nail on the head recently:
    Corruption Responsible for 80% of Your Cell Phone Bill

    1. Rob C.

      First, $10/gig? My rate is less than half a penny per GB–what service is this that costs so much?

      Second, a lossless archive of about 70 minutes of music clocks around 300MB.

      1. Eureka Springs

        In my area (Northwest Arkansas) you get a certain amount of gigs (usually 3 to 15) with your monthly plan then you pay about 10 bucks per gig when going over. This would be true for Verizon wireless, ATT, or any of the satellite providers. DSL or cable in a rural setting is not an option. Fortunately I am grandfathered in an unlimited plan for 65.00 a month… my speed test is 0.13 download, 0.007 upload and this is a good day so far. Verizon now chokes my speed way down about a week to ten days into each billing cycle. Loading a few minute youtube now takes an hour or more. So downloading even at the file size you mention can be expensive and take quite a long time. Certainly prohibitive when it comes to purchasing art.

        We (millions of us) are being taxed already… and choked.

        Here is a great site for viewing the news on our tele-ponzi debacle. I check it a couple times a week.

  19. K Ackermann

    Eminem: So what’s up? How’s orders looking for the first week?
    Steve: It would be better if you gave me nothing at all.
    Eminem: Wh-
    Steve: This album is less than nothing. I can’t sell this fucking record.
    Eminem: Wha-
    Steve: Do you know what’s happening to me out there?
    Eminem: Wh-wha-what’s the problem?
    Steve: Violent Ground told me to go fuck myself!
    Eminem: Who’s Violent…?
    Steve: Tower Records told me to shove this record up my ass! Do you know what it feels like to be told to have a record shoved up your ass?
    Eminem: But, I-
    Steve: I’m gonna lose my fuckin’ job over this. You know why Dre’s record was so successful? He’s rappin’ about big-screen tv’s, blunts, 40’s and bitches. You’re rappin’ about homosexuals and Vicadin.

    Steve Berman, Marshall Mathers LP – Eminem

    The layers of irony – j-j-jenious? You decide.

  20. matt

    ha! Just realized I wrote “equally more important.” Only meant to say that the pirate parties in Europe are not the only solution to the topics addressed here.

  21. Eric L. Prentis

    News on TV is just spin, propaganda and lies. Multinational corporations own the TV networks, which kowtow to government and sell the status-quo’s 1% position. Who gives a rat’s ass who the parrot news anchors are, they just read the teleprompters and do what they are told.

    The only remedy, do not watch or own a TV.

    Experience the wonderful feeling knowing many thousands of TV commercials a week are going unwatched, and are useless on you.

  22. redleg

    As a former touring indie musician, allow me to clarify some things.
    First, nearly all recording contracts amount to indentured servitude for the band. The work that they write and perform is considered the property of the record label, and other than the advance money the band will never see a cent of what the label takes in. The label charges all of their expenses – payola, breakage, legal, studio, engineering, etc. , to the band and recoups these expenses from the bands points.
    Songwriters have it better, as the publishing contracts are usually more artist friendly. This is why bands often break up upon having success, as the only money goes to the writers they fight tooth and nail for this income.
    Finally (for now), getting a break in music is like playing the lottery. Talent, work ethic, innovation, and artistic vision are only small factors in determining success. Each of these is like buying lottery tickets, improving ones chances but offering no guarantees.

  23. Doc's name then was something like Xqq

    For the artist, sometimes destruction is the only way out, the only way of forward.

    Following is an excerpt from the story of the Golden Temple, a superb allegory of destruction and evil’s revenge:

    “This beautiful building was before long going to be turned into ashes, I thought… The Golden Temple had, so to speak, been transformed into a symbol of the real world’s evanescence.

    If I burn down the Golden Temple, I told myself, I shall be doing something which will have great educational value. For it will teach people that it is meaningless to infer indestructibility by analogy.

    They will learn that the mere fact of the Golden Temple’s having continued to exist, of its having continued to stand for five hundred and fifty years by the Kyoto Pond confers no guarantee on it whatsoever. They will be imbued with a sense of uneasiness as they realize that the self-evident axiom which our survival has predicated on the temple can collapse from one day to another.

    Thus my deed would open the eyes of men to the disasters of the Tsukumogami and save them from those disasters. By my deed I should thrust the world in which the Golden Temple existed into a world where it did not exist.

    The meaning of the world would surely change.”

    Yukio Mishima, “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion”, pg 41-42

    1. B Traven

      “..concrete aisles stretched into the darkness across the airfield. In the suburbs of Hell Travis walked in the flaring light of the petrochemical plants. The ruins of abandoned cinemas stood at the street corners, faded billboards facing them across the empty streets. In a waste lot of wrecked cars he found the burnt body of the white Pontiac. He wandered through the deserted suburbs. The crashed bombers lay under the trees, grass growing through their wings. The bomber pilot helped the young woman into one of the cockpits. Travis began to mark out a circle on the concrete target area.”

      from J.G. Ballard’s “The Atrocity Exhibition”

  24. JerryDemim

    First off, mad props for the Keith quote. I love that weird perverted guy. Hip hop genuis. I never thought I would see him mentioned here.

    Your post today seems deep into Richard Florida territory, plus it reminds me alot of a book I read almost 10 years ago (can’t remember the name or the author) seeking to trace the development of the contemporary sense of “cool”, the modern American youth culture, and the constant battle by coporate forces to co-opt it for profit. A tale of Don Draper vs. Fugazi in a constant push-pull arms race to stay one step ahead.

    I’m personally ok with tax credits for artists but I think there would be an incredible number of loud objections from the right, plus I think government sanctioned and subsidized art will seriously damage any artist’s ‘cool cache’. Anything that’s not at least a little naughty (see Kool Keith above) and that is liked by your parents/the government ain’t very cool PP.

    I think the best thing a government/society can do to encourage art is do all the things which should be done anyway to make the world a more pleasant place to live for everyone; which is craft a gentler, more liveable world where 99% of the population isn’t in debt up to their eyeballs working their fingers to the bone 6 days a week just to survive (eat and pay rent) while praying to God they don’t get sick or fired. Such lifestyles aren’t good for one’s health, soul, social life and definitely not art. Give artists a cheap place to live and enough leisure time to socialize and be creative and they will do what they do best: create art.

    As long as producing art/creative output (music, dance, sculpture, painting, writing, etc.) gives artists access to an increased pool of willing sexual partners and recreational substances there will always be art. Its never about the money for truely creative people. The act itself is the reward, the sex and drugs are perks. Money is just something artists need to pay rent.

    If you think everything being produced today is shitty, corporate simulacrums of better art/music gone by you may be right, or then again you may be too old and not cool enough to know what the cool kids are up to and where. In short, artists don’t need the government anymore than the rest of us, but Sony BMG does.

  25. Kukulkan

    I can’t help but notice that one of the tags on this post is “Ridiculously obvious scams. Seems appropriate somehow.

    I believe there’s a technical term to refer to government-issued vouchers that can be used to pay one’s tax obligation or to give to others in exchange for goods and/or services. My understanding is that this technical term is “money”.

    If members of the pirate party want to compensate creators for their work they could, you know, just pay them. Using present-day money. The same money they could use to pay their taxes. Only, instead, they could give it to those creators whose work they consume. They don’t need to wait for the introduction of artistic freedom vouchers, they could use plain old regular money now.

    Of course, that’s not going to happen since one of the key principles of the pirate party — in fact, the one from which they take their name — is taking the products of creators’ time, effort and skill and not paying for them. No doubt they will come up with suitable rationalisations for not giving their artistic freedom vouchers to creators — the WPA-style organisation running the public recording studios, public art studios, public filmmaking studios and other facilities is just another giant bureaucratic institution shoveling crap into our eyes and ears and the value of the artistic freedom vouchers is eaten up by government fees anyway, so very little gets to the actual creator, it’s all gobbled up by government bureaucrats, so they’re going to protest the system by consuming art for free and not paying the creators. Oh, and all those so-called artists are just self-indulgent wankers, anyway, and it’s all crap. Or something like that. But it will involve not paying the creators. That’s the one element that will remain constant.

    Beyond that, the pirate party really couldn’t support such a scheme since it would imply the current system is inadequate and one of their core claims is that piracy not only doesn’t hurt art sales, it actually helps them. Well, unless it’s Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp helping pirate access to ONdigital’s cable channels, in which case, maybe it does hurt sales a little bit, but that’s only because Rupert Murdoch did it. Other than that, piracy helps sales. So, given the amount of piracy in the world today, sales must be up and creators must be doing incredibly well. I mean, that’s what their theory says, so it must be true. And if creators are doing incredibly well, then there’s no need for something like artistic freedom vouchers, is there? Supporting something like artistic freedom vouchers would require them to acknowledge that one of their core principles might be a bit – just a small, tiny, almost too insignificant to mention, really — mistaken. Not likely to happen.

    Other than all that, though, it seems like a good idea.

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