Capitalism Cuckolds Creativity

Capitalism Cuckolds Creativity


In recent news, there has been a focus on
creative industries being affected by their intersection with capitalism. After doing
some “light” reading, I’ve put together an explanation for why this is, and why it
will not stop anytime soon. Today, I will be explaining why creators and artists are
inhibited due to economic pressures and a lack of resources, and what currently exists
to help reduce that. Full disclosure, I’m going to be taking a very American centric
view of the situation. If you don’t time to watch the video, or just want a quick summary,
Capitalism Cuckolds Creativity. In art classes, I was sold on this image of
famous, talented artists being regular people. The only thing that distinguished them from
anyone else at the time was their passion for creation. They weren’t born with the
innate gift of artistry, they had to work at it. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci and
Van Gogh were renowned for their own hard work, and were self made men. Having done
some minimal research, I can say that the Arizona education system sucks even more than
I originally thought. Leonardo da Vinci came from a long line of
notaries [27, p11]. His own father was “a notary for many of the city’s monasteries
and religious orders, the town’s Jewish community, and on at least one occasion the
Medici family.” [27, p12], with the Medicis being a bourgeois family that ruled over Florence
and Tuscany for almost 300 years [35]. On top of being able to provide monetary support,
Leonardo’s father was able to secure an apprenticeship for his son, with a past client.
This client “ran one of the best workshops in Florence” [27, p33].
Wassily Kandinsky, a pioneer in abstract art, was born in 1866, and his father “earned
his living in the tea business”[23], at a time when tea was an extremely lucrative
venture. Paul Cézanne helped develop the transition of art from the 19th to the 20th
century, and “was the son of a well-to-do bourgeois family”[24]. His father was a
banker, and at one point had Paul enrolled in law school[24]. Vincent van Gogh, known
only for his missing ear, did have a more modest upbringing. His father was a clergyman,
and “stood at the apex of Zundert’s tiny elite”[25, p32] His father “earned only
a modest salary”, but had “a house, a maid, two cooks, a gardener, a carriage, and
a horse provided by the church”[25, p32]. His mother “learned to draw and paint with
watercolor, pastimes that had been taken up by the new bourgeois class”[25,p17], and
taught Vincent as well. Picasso’s parents “came from minor aristocratic families”[26,
p13], and his father was an artist, a teacher, and a curator for a museum[26, p14].
In no way am I saying that these men are undeserving of the praise for their artistic ability.
Regardless of the circumstances they were born into, they were influential in their
artistic creations. Truthfully, there are a number of artists who were born into middle
or lower class families with just as successful careers. However, it’s important to note
that these specific artists had distinct advantages over others, which can not be ignored. In
contrast, a large number of Americans do not have access to these sorts of resources.
Let’s take a look at some of the employment data from the U.S. Department of Labour. The
Department of Labour tracks all the different jobs in the US, the number of people with
those jobs, the hourly and annual wage averages and medians, among many, many other numbers
I won’t be covering. To save you from listing these numbers for every single job, I’ve
compiled them into a single Excel file and created a fancy graphic. In 2017, the U.S.
Census Bureau estimated the total U.S. population as 325,147,121 people [22]. Combining these
pieces of information, we find that just under 8% of the population falls within these job
categories. Meaning that there are over 26 Million Americans who are in a job that has
a medium annual wage of under $30,000. That’s not a surprising number, by any means, given
how some of these jobs are heralded as being for high-school and college age students,
and thus not a “real job”. Yet a number of these jobs are things that students couldn’t
or shouldn’t do. Laborers, Elderly and Home Health Aides, Nursing and Teaching Assistants
are all “real jobs”, but still get paid so very little, and make up a good portion
of the working population. In addition, the annual wages listed are for full time positions,
which few students are able to achieve. Meaning, we have just about 8% of the working population
who spend 40 hours a week at their jobs and they’re barely making anything. With wages
like that, it would be difficult to have extra money to explore creative avenues that more
affluent workers could. In addition, we have to think about the time commitment. Even if
these people had enough savings to invest in taking art classes or buying supplies,
40 hours a week takes up a large chunk of your time, and likely interferes with any
class they could take. Add in life responsibilities, such as keeping a clean house, preparing food
and other maintenance, and that little free time dries up. On top of that, many of these
jobs are physically strenuous, requiring the employees to run around for hours at a time,
constantly on their feet. All that together paints a picture that for 8% of the population,
there’s little reason to expect any art they DO create is at its full potential.
If we stopped there, that would be “acceptable”. 8% of the population, while still a large
amount of people, is an “acceptable” number, given the pure difficulty in giving everyone
an equal opportunity. Yet, you might be noticing, I’ve only listed out 14 jobs. There are
many, many more jobs that pay equally terrible wages. If I wanted to paint capitalism as
a true horrorscape, I would have continued to list out all the different jobs until I’m
down to those with only a few hundred people. But I stopped. Because even if I continued,
that 8% isn’t the full story. The Census Bureau released two reports on
poverty in September of 2018. One titled “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017”,
and the other “The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2017”. In the first report, it’s
stated that “For those who worked full-time, year round, 2.2 percent were in poverty in
2017”[38, p16]. So of that working population, 2.2% are all but completely cut off from opportunities
to create art. Not only do they not have time, they don’t have the funds to even think
about purchasing materials more expensive than a dollar store box of crayons. But that’s
not all. In the U.S.,12.4% are below the poverty line
[39, p7]. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the maximum
annual income to be below the poverty line is $12,490 for an individual, and $25,750
for a 4 person family [21]. However, the cut-off point for poverty is contentious. There are
a number of mitigating factors not taken into account, such as work and medical expenses,
cost of living differences based on location, as well as government benefits, such as SNAP
or government housing[39, p14 – 18]. For this reason, the Supplemental Poverty Measure,
or SPM, was developed. The SPM report reveals that, when other factors are taken into account,
there are actually 13.9% of Americans who are in poverty[29, p24]. We also have to take
those who are near poverty into account. Let’s define near poverty as making up to 1.49 times
the cutoff point for their family size. Meaning that an individual making $18,610 per year
(or 1.49 times $12,490) counts as being near poverty. When we take that into account, we
see that 21.1% of Americans are in or near poverty according to the Department of Health
and Human Services, and 29.4% are in or near poverty according to the SPM. That means that
between 68 and 195 MILLION American Citizens are in or near poverty. Effectively, 195 million
Americans are totally cut off from making art. When families are scraping by, barely
making ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck and still don’t have enough… that’s
no way to live. That’s no way to create, to express yourself, to even relax after you
get home from work. I could talk more about how these numbers
are tragic, especially when you take into consideration just how much money some people
make in a week that others won’t see in a lifetime. That’s a topic for another time,
though. Let’s pretend that we only care about the 7 out of 10 Americans who aren’t
in poverty. We’ll say that these people make enough to have discretionary income,
and that they work a comfortable enough job that they have energy when they get home.
Under capitalism, any time, energy, or money spent that doesn’t increase your wealth
is wasted. Because of this, there is a cultural emphasis on making money from your hobbies,
which can not be ignored. Look towards Etsy, where there are so many people who are trying
to sell their crafts, even if their profit is minimal. Or think about the number of artists
who do commissioned pieces, or otherwise sell their works to a wide audience. Let’s put
a pin in that thought for just a second, and talk about Andy Warhol.
In another example of the Arizonan education system failing, I was under the impression
that Andy Warhol’s works were a critique of consumerism. In fact, it was quite the
opposite. Warhol celebrated consumerism, or at the very least, leaned into it in order
to make money. In his words, “Making money is art, and working is art, and good business
is the best art.”[30]. Good business is to make as much money as possible from as
many people as possible. If good business is the best art, then your art has to appeal
to as wide an audience as possible. Because of this, your art must be easy to consume,
or at least be appealing. Look towards Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’. ‘Fountain’ was a urinal,
set on its back, and sent to an art exhibition to be displayed under the pseudonym R. Mutt.
The piece was never displayed, as it wasn’t deemed to be decent enough, and would have
turned people away from the exhibition. ‘Fountain’ might have been Duchamp’s attempt to see
if this exhibition would be tolerant of new ideas on art. In the past, Duchamp had a painting
titled ‘Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2’ that he had to withdraw from another exhibition
after backlash, due to it being indecent [34]. If a piece in an exhibition was turned away,
despite not being for sale, what about artists who DO have to sell their works? If an artist
has to rely on their crafts to make money, they inherently have to change it in order
to be more “palatable”. Think of all the fan-art and teeshirts that are pandering towards
gamer or nerd culture. A number of them, of course, are made because someone felt inspired
by the source material and wanted to share that creativity. But how many of them exist
so that someone could make a few dollars, or to help pay rent? While societal pressures
are going to exist regardless, economic pressures have an undeniable effect on what art is being
made, and why. Even Leonardo da Vinci experienced these pressures. For the workshop he was an
apprentice at, “The goal was to produce a constant flow of marketable art and artifacts,
rather than nurture creative geniuses yearning to find outlets for their originality”[27,
p34]. There’s no better modern example of this, than in the video game industry.
Video games are unarguably an artform. If not because of the creative efforts behind
the works, then because Warhol would consider them “good business”. I’m going to focus
on some of the larger gaming companies, as they are a perfect example of the end result
of the intersection of capitalism and art. It’s no secret that the larger game publishers
exist solely to make money. Look towards Konami, who has cut Hideo Kojima from their ranks,
likely in part due to how expensive it is to create his games[45], and the poor return
on investment. Or another video game giant, Konami, who is currently producing mobile
games and gambling machines [46] based off of their popular IPs . Valve, who used to
create video games, and now just caters a store front, with a side hustle of gambling
in nearly all their games. Bethesda, who releases subpar, buggy experiences, because they know
their community will fix the bugs for free. Bethesda, who released Fallout 76, and gave
me confidence that I might be an okay programmer after all. Or even the game Apex Legends,
an offshoot of the Titanfall series, likely developed in part due to historically poor
sales for the developer. Perhaps most damning of all is Activision
Blizzard. Recently, they laid off 800 jobs, despite a record setting revenue for 2018[47].
However, the revenue increase was not as much as they wanted, and the next year didn’t
look any better, meaning they “had to” trim some fat. Think, for a moment, about
how that affects developer’s work. If I knew that any slip up, any sales dip that
was out of my control could lead to me not having a job, I wouldn’t be doing my best
work. I would be scared, anxious that any day now I would be out of a job. Even outside
of making a good creative work, I wouldn’t be making a good product in general. But why
do they need to lay off anyone at all? Why has there been this great shift in their games
towards microtransactions? The answer, of course, is money.
Let’s look towards the 2017 financial report that was released by Activision Blizzard,
Inc. I’m using the 2017 report as they haven’t posted their 2018 report, but the information
is still relevant. Under the section Recurring Revenue Business Models and Seasonality, there’s
a particularly fun paragraph. “While our business is transitioning to
a year-round engagement model, the interactive entertainment industry remains somewhat seasonal.
We have historically experienced our highest sales volume, particularly for Activision,
in the year-end holiday buying season, which occurs in the fourth quarter. Following the
acquisition of King, which focuses on free-to-play games which are generally less seasonal, and
as we otherwise make the shift to a year-round model, less of our revenues are generated
during the fourth quarter. For our reportable segments—Activision, Blizzard, and King—the
percentage of our revenue represented by the fourth quarter in each of 2017 and 2016 was
36%, as compared to 46% in 2015.”[37, p7]. Although I don’t have a business degree,
I can do math, and even occasionally think. Let’s take a closer look at Q4’s drop
from 46% of net revenue to 36%. While at first glance that might seem like a negative thing,
it’s quite the opposite. With 46% of net revenue being generated in Q4, Activision
Blizzard has to rely on a small time frame in order to keep their business on the up
and up. If they suffer a bad Q4, or even just a below average one, they’re looking at
a hefty drop in money. On top of that, they won’t be able to make up that difference
for another year. Pulling from the report again, the revenue for 2015 was $4.6 billion,
2016 was $6.6 billion, and 2017 was $7 billion [37, p1]. With their acquisition of King in
2016, Activision Blizzard not only had a nearly $2 Billion dollar increase in net revenue,
but they also assured a more steady, year round stream of money. In the introductory
letter from Bobby Kotick, the CEO and President, and Brian Kelly, the Chairman of the board,
they had the following to say: “In 2017, we generated ~$4 billion of our ~$7 billion
of net bookings from digital in-game content”[37]. That includes things like Overwatch Loot Boxes,
mobile game microtransactions, and so on. Now, if I were an investor, I would be fully
behind expanding that number even further. I don’t care about the quality of games,
or whether or not they help expand the gaming medium in a meaningful way. I want my $.34
dividend per share [37, p31] to go up, and I want the stock value to go up. I don’t
care about games, I care about my return on investment. I want to see an ever growing
revenue, because that means I get to make more money off of my money. In order to keep
that revenue on the up and up, Bobby Kotick had to layoff nearly 800 people, because the
billions they already made weren’t enough. In the face of all this, it’s easy to think
that “true art” is an untouchable dream. If in America, the land of the free and the
home of the Big Mac, we are unable to afford everyone the opportunity to create, then where
else could capitalism allow it? Let us look past the analog, and move towards the digital:
the internet. Although it’s not a perfect solution by any means, the information age
has afforded so many an opportunity to learn and create. There are so many websites that
have helped decentralize knowledge, previously allowed to only those with deep enough pockets.
If you can think of a hobby or craft, there’s a website that caters to that specific demographic.
Almost every time, the content on that website is made by hobbyists who love what they do,
and want to share what they know with whoever is interested. Look towards websites like
Instructables, where for the low price of free, you’re able to enroll in classes.
You get an instructor teaching you, at your own pace, how to create. If you’re not able
to find what you need there, look no further than the website you’re on right now. There
are so many instructional videos being uploaded every day. All of them for free.
However, the people willing to teach you through videos aren’t paid a meager wage by your
tax dollars. Much like real teachers, they have to pay for their own supplies, and are
only provided the space that they work in. In the face of this, it’s hard to imagine
why they would continue to create, especially given YouTube ad payment changes. According
to Polygon, “YouTube’s new rules state that creators must now accrue 4,000 hours
of watch time over the course of 12 months and reach 1,000 subscribers to … qualify
for monetization”[40]. For some people, the videos they create don’t have a wide
enough audience to reach those sorts of numbers, or they don’t release videos often enough.
In addition, it demoralizes creators to work on something that they believe has value,
and be told through policy that no. It doesn’t. Patreon exists to help fill that revenue gap.
Patreon, if you aren’t familiar, is a service that allows content creators to collect monthly
donations from fans. Currently, content creators get 90% of the monthly income, with the other
10% going towards transaction fees and Patreon’s cut [1]. Patreon has more than 3 million patrons,
and is projected to pay out $500 million in 2019. Graphtreon, a website dedicated to tracking
Patreon patron stats, goes into further detail. As of this writing, there are 5 million pledges,
meaning some patrons support multiple creators, and over $12 Million donated every month (minus
any hidden donations). If you watch someone on YouTube, it’s very likely that they have
a Patreon, even if they have a larger following. Most video creators rely on Patreon so they
have a somewhat reliable income source, in the face of demonetization or long stretches
without uploads. Patreon does have a gap area, where creators need to fund a project that
needs some hefty up front capital. In the boardgame community, there are dozens upon
dozens of independent developers who need one time funds in order to get their game
to the publishing stage. The solution, of course, is Kickstarter.
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website that allows creators to publish their projects
with a funding goal. If enough people donate, the goal is met, the project is funded, and
Kickstarter takes roughly a 10% cut for themselves and transaction fees[2]. There have been tens
of thousands of projects posted to Kickstarter, all of which have forgone more traditional
methods of funding in favor of appealing to the goodness in people’s hearts. By using
Kickstarter, projects that have artistic merit but are commercially questionable can still
exist. Of course, these projects aren’t always artistic in nature. There are a number
of Kickstarter projects that are products trying to find a market, or are trying to
prove to venture capitalists that there is a market, so they get funding. While that
might not have been the original intention, the core concept is still solid, and helps
lift people from hefty monetary shackles on their creative freedom.
However, there is a problem with these services that is inherent and unavoidable. Only projects
and creators with a wide market appeal get funded. Even though there isn’t a monetary
barrier to create a Kickstarter or Patreon, you’re not likely to get donations if you
don’t have a wide enough appeal to reach somebody willing to give you money. Even if
there was an objective way to determine if your content is better than someone else’s,
if they happen to have more eyes on their Patreon, they’re more likely to get patrons.
In addition, most people don’t like to give money away for nothing. This results in content
creators having to incentivize patronage by keeping content behind a paywall, with increasing
rewards for more money. That’s not to mention the potential changes to Patreon’s payout
policy. Patreon is looking to reduce their payout model, in an attempt to increase their
revenue[1]. Not to mention that there’s still a monetary barrier to websites like
Instructables and Youtube. While the content itself is more often than not free, actually
getting onto the website requires a computer or cellphone, and an internet connection.
While a much lower monetary and time barrier than classes for all the skills you can learn,
it still exists. In the end, while all these services do help to mitigate the problems
caused by capitalism, they can’t fully fix them. Ultimately, this struggle between capitalism
and art can be summarized through the story of Anish Kapoor and Stuart Semple. Kapoor
was the sculptor behind Cloud Gate, commonly referred to as The Bean, which cost a total
of $23 Million [29] to make. Supposedly, Kapoor hates that it’s nicknamed The Bean, but
I was unable to find a reliable source on that. In more recent news, Kapoor has been
earning flak from the artist community for getting exclusive rights to use Vantablack.
Vantablack is a pigment “so dark, it absorbs 99.96 percent of light”[28]. By getting
these exclusive rights, Kapoor has prevented any other artist from using the material without
facing legal consequences, if they could get their hands on it in the first place. Understandably,
other artists were upset that such an amazing color, or lack thereof, would be usable by
only a single person. Unfortunately, without a team of researchers willing to spend some
months or years re-creating this nanotube system, there’s no real way to remedy the
situation. Enter Stuart Semple.
Semple is a member of Culture Hustle, which is t. They have an online store, oftering
powders, potions, and gifts. Everything they sell, they make themselves. They even sell
a watercolor palette, which is sold on a “not for profit basis”[32]. From the product
page, “This is NOT a student grade set, these are professional quality, high-end colours
comparable to the most expensive sets available”[32]. While I can’t vouch for the actual quality
of the watercolor, a group selling their products at cost is wonderful. By keeping the price
to an absolute minimum, it allows for more people to be exposed to art. Semple himself
is a British artist, who’s been “doing art shows around the world for about 15 years”.
Culture Hustle has taken a shot at Kapoor, by having the following disclaimer on one
of their products: “*Note: By adding this product to your cart
you confirm that you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no wa y affiliated to Anish Kapoor,
you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor.
To the best of your knowledge, information and belief this high-grade glitter will not
make its way into the hands of Anish Kapoor.”[43] Anish Kapoor ignored this disclaimer. Kapoor
posted a picture of his middle finger dipped in Pinkest Pink, a pigment that Culture Hustle
sells, and specifically banned him from using[31]. Kapoor revels in this controversy that he’s
created, either believing that he’s done nothing wrong, or that he’s above consequences.
However, Stuart Semple has been working on something.
As it turns out, Culture Hustle has put their paint making skills to use. In response to
Kapoor getting sole rights to the use of Vantablack, they developed their own blackest paint. They
raised funds for their third attempt at this blackest paint, simply named Black 3.0. The
product is completed, usable, but they needed funds to afford the minimum production. The
paint absorbs almost 99% of visible light[33], and is a safe to use, water soluble product.
In addition, it looks to be a somewhat affordable price, with a small bottle of the paint being
sent out to backers who donated at least $13 [33]. As of writing, 5,844 backers have helped
pledge $344,346 of the $32,651 goal [33]. Here we have two artists that personify the
struggle between capitalism and art. One creates for the rich, and the other for everybody.
One wants to consolidate, the other to share. One has art that has an estimated price between
$325K and $456K [44], and the other sells water color palettes at cost. The page for
Black 3.0 has a quote, and it should be what you take away from the video. “The limits
of your creations should be your imagination, not how rich or successful you are.”[33].
Until we get to the point where 3 out of 10 Americans are no longer in poverty, where
800 people don’t get laid off because $7 billion isn’t enough, we’ll never reach
that point. As I’m sure you noticed, I’ve been placing
citations throughout the video. I wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to read more
had the opportunity, as well as prove that I might have paid attention in English class,
once. If you have any further questions, comments, or complaints, please let me know in the comments
below. Any feedback on the video would be wonderful. If you liked what you’ve seen,
I would appreciate it if you liked and subscribed, and share this video with your friend who
won’t shut up about the plight of the proletariat. My Twitter is down below. Thank you, and enjoy
the rest of your day.

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