Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I Ponder Economics

In this world of illusion you have to choose your level of illusion carefully. If you have none at all you can easily become suicidally depressed, whether you act on it or not. Depression is by nature a slow-motion suicide because you sit and wait for death when you do nothing else with your time. So it pays to avoid the realization that all human existence is pointless unless it propels you into a hardworking pursuit of distracting hedonism. In that case you become a driver of the economy. You have to pay for those physical gratifications somehow, and that means trading goods and services.

If you want to try for happiness you have to come up with a solid set of stories you tell yourself about the things you do to fill your day and calm your mind for sleep at night. I was going to say lies, but if you know they're lies they will cease to work and you're back to suicidal depression or a knowing pursuit of distraction in a vast cosmos of pointlessness. The veil will inevitably slip from time to time, leaving you staring into the fathomless blackness.

If you decide your life has a point or points, pursuit of them will provide the structure to support the comforting facade you place over the big black hole. You can equally validly decide that you simply like certain things in life and will enjoy them as much as possible until the end, making no bets about their higher purpose or what experience might lie beyond the point where our perception appears to cease.

While you're here you have to figure out how to generate income.

I know a lot of people in the realm collectively known as The Arts. They are actors, writers, directors, painters, cartoonists, musicians and even tradespeople who have an artistic approach to their work. The tradespeople have an advantage over the purely artistic types because they offer a practical service like auto repair, carpentry or plumbing in their own eccentric way.

The unifying trait in the artistic personality is independent thought. Their creativity might be completely derivative, but every artist feels independent and does not perform well under someone else's authority. My auto mechanic started his own shop because he did not like how he was being told to fix people's cars to low standards in shops where he was merely an employee. For the luxury of setting his own standards he undertook the endless work of being his own boss. He's staying afloat, but he can't tolerate helpers with low standards any more than he could work for an employer with them. He works as hard as he can to meet his own standards for as many customers as he can serve at that level. It means a lot of six-day -- if not seven-day -- weeks.

Many of my friends in the pure arts: music, drama, visual media both serious and humorous, teach others their craft. The money they get for lessons and classes helps fund their more speculative creative ventures. However, they create more creators as they go. If even a fraction of the students go on to put up their creations for the public to view, judge and perhaps purchase, they fill the display with more and more for the consuming public to pay for, or not. That money has to come from somewhere. Even the money for lessons has to come from somewhere.

Right now, the Internet has evolved to a point at which creative people, good or not so good, can put up their work and possibly gain some income from it. I gather from my musician friends that the model is not serving them well because their intellectual property can escape through too many leaks without producing a return flow of cash. While a performer can gain worldwide exposure, apparently it's very easy to lose all benefit of the fame because the cash flow fails. In fact, according to one musician's article, musicians now find themselves paying more and more services to publicize them while receiving no money in return. If no one has to pay for recordings anymore, the only sources of income are live gigs and authorized merchandise. That seems like a throwback to the age when musicians played not only without being recorded, but without amplification except by their own numbers and the acoustics of the performance space.

Returning to the concept of what is worthwhile in human existence, how much should we care about people who have chosen to devote extraordinary amounts of time to perfecting skills that do not produce food, build shelter or move people and goods from place to place? The answer begins with the fact that we are not ants. We as a species seem to believe there is more to our existence than mere existence. We evolved these arts as a way to enrich our lives. The fact that some of us prove more adept than others at them complicates matters because then the arts of a few become desirable by a larger audience that finds itself incapable of doing as well, or who simply like the product even if they are fellow creators.

Many adult advisors did their best to convince me to get a good job and do art as a hobby. As far as they were concerned I was throwing away my life by chasing a dream of creative success. Was it because they'd seen my art and knew it wasn't good enough to succeed or did they give the same advice to any student? I'll never know.

How often do you find yourself looking at something and asking "but what good is it?" It seems like a reasonable question when looking at a piece of art that seems badly done or in poor taste, or listening to music that's disturbing or sloppily performed. In the realm of pure art, so much is subjective that a lot of it can seem like crap and a certain amount undeniably is. But apply the same question to everything you see, not just art, and be ruthlessly critical. Keep at it long enough --perhaps not long at all -- and you question the value of nearly everything. And that's a good thing. You want to keep checking your assumptions not just once but as many times as it takes to get around all sides of them and make them prove their worth. Even if you continue apparently unchanged, at least you ran the checklist.

No comments: