Saturday, January 6, 2018

Art Should Be Free!

This is one of those plausible, though idiotic, slogans people shout, or sometimes pompously aver in the mass media. Case in point: this article at the New York Times that assembles a covey of critics to assert that great art should be free of access to everyone.
HOLLAND COTTER Loopy as it may sound, on principle I believe major public museums should have universal free admission. You should be able to walk in off the street and see the art just as you can enter a public library and read the books on the shelf. If this country had a government that cared about its citizens rather than one that catered to its economic ruling class, we might be able to live some version of this ideal.
There was a lot of agreement with this in the article. I feel impelled to point out that the New York Times does not give away its hard-copy edition for free, nor do the writers and editors of this article, nor do the critics quoted. As a matter of fact, even if you can enter the museum for free, this hardly guarantees your access to the art itself. Sure, you can stand in front of the paintings and look at them--perhaps, as many do, take your selfie with them. But your encounter with the art qua art is determined by your aesthetic capacity and taste, not just physical access. Similarly, your access to literature, even if someone hands you a book, is determined by your ability to read and the breadth and depth of your experience of literature.

Oh, and that brainless shot about "If this country had a government that cared about its citizens rather than one that catered to its economic ruling class, we might be able to live some version of this ideal," is a perfect caricature of why people keep falling for some version of socialism. The true task of government is not to be some fantasy mother, taking care of each and every citizen. Peoples, like those in the Soviet Union and communist China, that suffer the sort of government that pretends to that, soon find out that they are nothing more than helpless sharers of infinite misery as stage two always leads to someone like Stalin or Mao.

The truth is that art, like freedom, is never free. The acquisition of the aesthetic experience of art requires considerable effort and time: ars longa vita brevis as the old saying goes. The creators of art have to work very hard and so do the appreciators. This is why all those notions about people being "consumers" of art are so much crap. You don't need any knowledge or taste to consume art, only to appreciate and understand it. But if you "possess" art with neither knowledge nor taste, then all you have is a knickknack. Art has to be earned, not purchased.

Here is a great piece of art that takes a bit of work. The Diabelli Variations by Beethoven played by Grigory Sokolov:


Will Wilkin said...

Of course we should USUALLY pay for art!

And, well, of all the days for you to write this!

Just today, as my son was playing a classical program on his new stage (electric) piano for his peers attending his 18th birthday party, I was sitting at lunch with an excellent friend who is also an excellent pianist,who told me how much he was enjoying a new (for him) 2-cd set of Grigory Sokolov playing Schubert and Beethoven, with the "never done" twist of encores by Rameau! He was telling me "it's not just performance of music but genuine expression of art!"

Thanks to you Bryan, I'd heard of him and even knew to say "it must be a live CD as he doesn't do studio recordings." I also told him it is you Bryan who has made me aware of him, saying "he writes that blog I've been trying to get you to read!" I said when I get some money I'll have to buy the set and he replied, "well until then I'll burn you a copy."

Most likely I'll get hooked and start buying more Sokolov discs. I noticed that in my rock days, when I was trading and copying hundreds of live recordings by Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. Before their lawyers can argue how much I'd stolen the music, I'd argue I'm still their best customer as I buy everything they issue commercially. In classical there doesn't seem to be a cult of stealth concert recorders and their underground distribution. Good liner notes and fine sound engineering make commercial discs worth buying even when bootleg versions are around.

Will Wilkin said...

And, let me add, a big THANK YOU Bryan for giving us this FREE blog, very consistently stimulating and enjoyable and educational.

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh! So glad that I helped make you knowledgeable about Sokolov! Actually, before DGG started issuing commercial CDs of him, there was an underground Sokolov cult that shared bootleg live recordings of him. There are still a bunch of these floating around on YouTube.

That recording of Schubert, Beethoven and encores is truly superb, by the way.

Trust me, I get a great deal of personal satisfaction out of writing this blog!