Thursday, May 6, 2010

Art and Commerce

I was thinking about art and commerce today. And why one makes the world go around, and why the other makes our hearts go faster.

"The Gift," by Lewis Hyde is a brilliant exploration of art and commerce. He talks about the power of the gift culture and how giving something away always leads to increase; selling the same thing and pocketing the proceeds ends the growth in meaning of that work.

"Red," the brilliant Broadway play that chronicles Mark Rothko's artistic mission makes the same argument, in its own way. In the play Rothko seethes with anger at American culture that is all about "fine." How was your day? Fine. How do you like that painting? Fine. It isn't fine, Rothko fumes. I don't want it to be fine. I don't want you to like my picture. I WANT TO STOP YOUR HEART, he says.

These days we tell ourselves that business men and women can be artists. Sorta.

We create design language to apply to entrepreneurial start ups. Apple's products are perfect little works of art. There's a way to have the best of both worlds: BOBW. BOBW lives in the application of art to commerce.

Except it actually doesn't. It's a nice story. It just isn't true.

Commerce doesn't want to stop your heart. It doesn't bleed to death over its pain. It doesn't leave us amazed and enraptured by its performance.

Lewis Hyde's book is brilliant. "Red" is brilliant. Rothko was doomed, and brilliant.

I can't think of a single business person who could compare. They don't belong in the same category.

But I'd like to think that, for instance, the way to save journalism, the way to rescue American civil discourse, the way to fix the cognitive disconnect in the way our society functions is by calling out the passion of a Rothko, the synthetic thinking of a Lewis Hyde.

What if reading a newspaper or a magazine made you stop in wonder the way seeing "Red" does?

What if journalists and editors didn't want to be the same as each other. What if just one of them wanted to STOP YOUR HEART?

I'd read that magazine or newspaper. Or watch that TV program. Or hang on to that web site.

So maybe art and commerce aren't ever going to find some happy medium.

But here's hoping the desperate love that suffuses art can somehow find its way into more of our commerce. And more of our daily lives.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb