16 August 2013

The Distributive Properties of the Arts

Put down the fountain pen and step away from the insurance forms...

  • I was never a fan of their instruments — I always preferred the heavier keyboard action of a Yamaha — but it's sad to see Steinway & Sons sold to a hedge-fund mogul. That's not because the arts and business somehow have no proper relationship (that way lies starving artists), but because it reflects problems with distribution that will not be magically solved by an owner with deeper pockets. The real problem with Steinway — for at least three decades — has been that it's incredibly difficult (and overpriced) to actually get ahold of one. Put another way, pianos don't travel well... but that's been absolutely necessary to get them to potential purchasers.
  • Then there's the "publish or perish" problem, for insanely variable values of "publish" and "perish."
  • One of the consequences of the inability to truly "distribute" singular works of fine art is "access control." We often call centralized access control a "museum." And sometimes, museum owners go bankrupt.
  • As a potential refutation of the "all publicity is good publicity" meme, consider what happens when people are exposed to art alongside the canon. In this instance, the examples are perhaps too extreme... but they're nonetheless revealing. On second thought, given some of the publicity efforts I've seen out of H'wood, I take that back!
  • Then there's copyright, tattoos, personal expression, and the very meaning of "distribution" — or, as the Berne Convention puts it, "ma[de] available to the public", for some value of "public".