I watched two videos on a lazy Saturday: the first was a documentary on the reviled/revered musician GG Allin called HATED, made by Todd Phillips. The second was the promo video that has been put together by Splitworks and Daedalum to commemorate the 2010 JUE Festival. It was an interesting juxtaposition that got me thinking about the relationship between commerce and art.
A study in paradox: There’s no money in art; artists work day jobs to support their art; said artists begin to garner recognition for their art and clamor for more money; the money rolls in; the art gets…
Better or worse? Does money make art better?
A quote from Zhang Shihao (a commercial illustrator) in the JUE video: “[Artists’] lifestyles are substandard, so their creations are substandard. [T]hey can’t sell so they can’t make money. In reality they are trying to resist the pressure for a more profitable lifestyle [b]ecause this road has strayed too far from a profitable lifestyle.”
This is a common misconception: Artists do better work when they are well supported financially. I think the opposite is true. I want my artists to be voracious, gambling with their very lives, and barely making it. True artists often need to make a choice: whether they’re going to starve or prosper. Money does nothing but spoil art, fatten it, and chase it to the penthouse of boredom.
A quote from GG Allin in HATED: “My lifestyle consists of pretty much what you see. You know, I got one pair of pants. I got a jacket, a shirt. Pretty much everything I own could fit in a paper bag. Pretty much it seems like the only type of way to live if you’ve gotta…I’m the type of person who always has to get out of town quick.” After he says this, a newspaper headline is shown that reads, “Fight Breaks Out at Anaconda; Three Arrested.”
I wonder if GG Allin ever made $1,000 off his art in his whole life. He was a deranged person who had a strange and damaging upbringing. His stated reason for pursuing music was to avoid killing someone. He made some of the truest, rawest, most disgusting performance art ever conceived. He lived from day to day like a drifter. But his art was riveting. Absolutely shocking and preposterous, but riveting.
Many people, like Zhang Shihao, will point to the fact that artists aren’t well-paid in China to explain the reason why the scene is small and still growing. I say that’s the reason why I love it right now and the reason that I believe 5 or 10 years from now we will look back upon these days in the China independent music scene with longing. Money infects things and forever makes them sick. I would rather my artists be hungry and healthy than fat and lazy.
What do you think?
If you want to check out the GG Allin doc, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.