Commentary
8:59 pm
Fri July 5, 2013

The Role Of Money In The Arts

Money talks, and a new book was just written by Travis Brown entitled, Money Walks. Money is the root of all evil, etc., etc. etc.

I recently attended a few of the second annual St. Louis Humanities Festival offerings. The theme this year was "Money" and the subtitle was, "Need,  Greed, and Generosity."

Festival hosts included local universities, Cinema St. Louis, Laumeier Sculpture Park, the Missouri History Museum, Missouri Humanities Council, and Prison Performing Arts.  One of my favorite presentations was at UMSL entitled, Dear Money, the name of the book written by Martha McPhee, novelist and runner up for the National Book Award. With her was book critic Heller McAlpin. They talked of the intersection between art and commerce, money and literature, and money and sexual allure.  They also talked about how art works have become a commodity.

Both speakers agreed that there are two major themes in practically all art disciplines; love, money, or both. Of course at this time, the Repertory Theater of St. Louis was presenting the play, "Double Indemnity," and that's what the book, movie, and play are all about: love and money.

Edward J. Nygren, in his article, The Almighty Dollar: Money as a Theme in American Painting, says, "Painted Images of Money constitute a sub theme in American art of the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  Like views of frontier life and depictions of America as a melting pot society, these representations of currency have no parallel in European painting." He goes on to say that paintings of money produced between the 1870s and the early 1900s comment, consciously and unconsciously, on American values and reflect current economic, political, and social concerns.

An article on the British Museum's website says in an article entitled, Money and Society, "In film and television, money is often glamorized, driving our aspirations.  But it is also used as a way to comment on the world's wrongs, symbolizing obsession and greed."  Writers, musicians, and visual artists use images of money in different ways in their work, reflecting their different personal and political beliefs.

A perfect example of all of this is Jane Austen's, Pride and Prejudice.  Marriage, money and love during Austen's day are reflected in her novel.  In the nineteenth century rural England, marriage was the woman's chief aim, both financially and socially.

So artists use their art to reflect our society and culture, and throughout history, only some made much of the precious green stuff!

In Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve-How the World Became Modern, he talks of authors of the Renaissance and earlier who made nothing from the sale of their books.  Their profits were from the wealthy patron to whom the work was dedicated.  There was no such thing as a copyright before the 18th century.

Even now, only a very small percentage of artists in any field go all the way to the top of the heap.

Thank goodness for our wonderful organization, RAC (The Regional Arts Commission), who is coming to the rescue of artists.  Based on the findings of the 2012 Artists Count survey of over 3000 artists of all disciplines in the region, RAC is initiating a series of significant vehicles of support of individual St. Louis artists.  Recognizing artists as the essential source of cultural vitality and the foundation for the success of the majority of our area arts organizations, RAC announced the "Artists Fellowships" in 2013.

So they say love makes the world go around, but it’s hard to keep it moving without some "moolah" in the mix.

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