Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Art, Status

Random theory, not particularly well-considered: there is a bell curve of artistic success. True starving artists are grateful for patrons. The marginal value of each patron is very high. Once a certain subsistence level is attained, grubbing about in the marketplace is seen as tacky and the artist may intentionally flout capitalist norms by refusing to charge a market clearing price or indeed any price at all. Artists who care too much about money once they have reached subsistence level or who attempt to capture more consumer surplus are looked down upon as sell-outs. At a certain point, though, the artist breaks through to the big time. Suddenly auctioning works of art is respectable, even if it means high or stratospheric prices. People don't sneer at Christie's the way they do at Ebay (or do they?). Is it a difference of kind instead of degree? Why is it okay for Picassos to be auctioned off for millions but not okay for small-time artists and crafters to capture more of the value of their work?

Semi-relatedly: Is ideology really driven by your desire to see certain groups attain high social status? I want the status of people who fob off novellas in novels' clothing to plummet. I like one commenter's suggestion that the Kindle will undermine incentives for publishers to demand books of a certain length. If only we could be sure that the prices for what amount to longish magazine articles (looking at you, Gladwell!) would be lower than those charged for books that truly warrant hundreds of pages. Perhaps I have no credibility, being a constant consumer of doorstop-sized SF/F novels, though.
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