We can argue around the edges all we like – and in doing so, wrongly talk up the complexities of our situation – but the reality is simple:
OK, so technology forcibly democratised art making. It empowered untrained amateur makers (of all disciplines) to create work on a par with professional, trained making. At the same time, the audience became radically less discerning, radically more interactive, with instant access and vastly more choice.
The big symptom of this is aggressive (and crucially, irreversible) demonetisation. The whole circus is de-professionalised.
The honest challenge to address (right now, let alone for the long-term) is not how to maintain elements of monetisation / professionalism during a long slow decline. Although that’s all anyone argues about. The challenge we ought to address is: how to enable artists to thrive without it? And the answer to that has to be in a new basic infrastructure.
We cannot leave it to the market, though that’s what we do at the moment. The market does not (and cannot ever effectively) protect outdated fiscal processes (i.e. purchasing items of ‘culture’ – pieces of art – to an extent that the money from those purchases will enable artists to live comfortably). The market is building the industries we still think of as ‘the arts’ around personality, iconography and splashy zing zong impact.
Transformers: Age Of Extinction > transformative enrichment, every time, no going back.
History shows us that; time and time again, when a method of making money from something becomes outdated. That’s the whole bullshit of the “online copyright debate” in a nutshell: scratching at the edges of the challenge (on both sides), in order to stave off the inevitable, rather than finding a new route forward.
But I think the next 20 years threaten to be bleaker than the past two centuries, for people who want to live by sharing creative culture.
So we make new infrastructure, or we do nothing.
And we have to do it now, precisely at the moment where governance has been most powerfully subsumed by the market and ‘business’ as a nebulous, fictional be-all-and-end-all of decision making. No we cannot rely on the market – but equally we now cannot rely on the state, as even the moderate ‘centrist’ state radically prioritises business and economic growth ahead of people’s wellbeing.
We build a parallel infrastructure that they can’t dilute. Where necessary from the ground up. Once one acknowledges that about our culture, one can start to fix it.
Unfortunately, once one acknowledges that (problem and solution) about our culture, it’s instantly clear that the same shift threatens every aspect of life right now. Suddenly “fixing the arts in Britain” becomes one tiny drop in the ocean of fixing the civilisation of the world.
I guess it’s lucky that the act of making art about how to fix civilisation is one of the great ways to propel us forward. Just look outwards, not inwards.