Monday, October 17, 2005

you can't always get what you want, but you will always want what you want

People keep fighting over rights to art. The artist wants to own his creation, and, as owner, dictate to what extent consumers can touch it with their grubby little fingers. But consumers sneer at touching. Consumers don't just want to touch. Consumers want to consume! They want it all. They want to snatch the work from under the artist's pillow and run away with it. They want to play it backwards and forwards, rewrite it, put stickers all over it, have sex with it, rip it to shreds, lick it all over, etc.

The artist won't let go. He clings to his work. "It's mine!" he says. "You can look, but don't touch!" But if we can't touch, we lose interest. The artist yearns for our interest, so he lets us touch -- a little, and is dismayed that this only makes us want more. There are only two ways he can keep us at bay: he can keep his works locked in his basement, or he can produce only humdrum works. If he keeps his work in the basement, we'll never see it. If we don't see it, we won't praise its maker. Its maker craves praise, so the basement is out. We also won't praise humdrum work. So the artist tries to make his work as exciting as possible. He pours his heart, soul and guts into it. As it gets better, we praise it more, but we also covet it more. So the artist is trapped. He needs praise and control, and he can't have both.

Consumers are stuck in their own trap. They love to possess, but they also want to be told what to do. They want a guru to guide them; but they also want to be left alone to do what they like. They want to take the artist's work and stomp up and down on it until it's smashed into pieces. Then they want to bring the pieces back to the artist and ask him to put it back together again (so that they can stomp on it and break it again!). But the artist says, "Fuck you! You stole it from me and smashed it? Well, it's yours now. YOU fix it!" Or he chains it to the wall so they can't steal it in the first place, in which case their desire to meddle is thwarted.

(Yes, there's another player in this game: the Media Holder. But he is boring. He just wants to make money. Naturally, he wants to spread the work to as many consumers as possible, because that's how he makes money. And naturally he wants to spread without giving up full control, because once he gives up full control, he can no longer make money. (If consumer's have full control, they don't need to pay the Media Holder.) He also can't make any money if he gives up NO control, because the only way to do that is to keep his wares in the basement. And consumers won't pay if they have no access. So the Media Holder, like the artist, is in the horrible position of needing to give up some control but not all control. His motives and end goal -- making money -- are obvious, so we won't discuss him further.)

Parents should empathize with artists. Parents want to control their kids, but they also don't want to control their kids. Parents want their kids to have some autonomy but not total autonomy. But once kids get a small taste of autonomy, the go crazy and become anarchists.

Kids -- even grownup kids -- want to be free, but they also want to be controlled. They defy anyone who stands in the way of fulfilling their urges. Yet they long for the comfort of the womb and absolution from heinous responsibility. "Give me back my God damned cigarettes," they say. "But do my taxes!"

These are all primal human urges. You can't stop them. They are with us. We fear loss of control, but we pine for the intimacy that we only get when we give up control. We balk at chains, but we secretly dream of being locked in a comfy room with a lifetime supply of chocolate. And it's possible these urges will always be in conflict. Maybe that is human nature. Or maybe there is a way to end the war. But there's one thing we can know for sure: the war will never end if we deny our natures.

If consumers download mp3s without paying, the artists will scream. That is his nature.

If artists ban free mp3s, consumers will scream. That is their nature.

If there's a solution -- a means for everyone to be happy -- then it must involve some method of bestowing a feeling of ownership on the artists (even if they don't literally own their works) and a feeling of free use on the consumers (even if they aren't literally free to do what ever they want). Primal needs are satisfied by the bestowment of satisfying feelings.

It's worth striving for these goals, because threatened artists produce shoddy art. We want artists to feel safe so that they can focus on their work. We all benefit from that. And consumers grow when they are allowed free play -- when they can let a work of art take them anywhere; when they can take a work of art anywhere.


graycie said...

Nice piece, I enjoy your Voice.

I looked at your post about the Two Sentence Game. I like it -- I'll probably mess around with it a bit. With guidance, I think it could be an interesting exercise for my students.

This post goes beyond art, don't you think?

“. . . once kids get a small taste of autonomy, they go crazy and become anarchists.” (This is one of the best descriptions of teenagers’ behavior and its causes I have ever seen) I teach high school freshmen . . . controlling, shaping, and guiding the anarchy (or attempting to) is what I do for a living.

The recognition of what is produced by the application of humanity and effort and attention is desired and needed by any producer – whether it is art that is produced or, as in my case, a being who has a chance to become a human, working, and attentive adult.

Thank you for the listing in your bloglist. What a kind comment.

Marcus said...

It was pleasure to link to your find blog, graycie. If you play (modified) "two sentences" with your class, please let me know how it goes!

You're right. We producers crave attention. In my case, this is complex. I direct plays, and my atheistic is one in which the director is invisible. In other words, if the audience leaves thinking, "Wow! That was really well directed," I feel like I've failed. If they leave thinking, "That play made me think of my grandmother," then I've succeeded.

But I still want praise. And yet I engineer a system that purposefully robs me of praise. Because I think it makes the art better.

Sure, I feel somewhat praised when I hear the grandmother comment, because I know I caused that. But it's the same praise an anonymous donor gets. It doesn't feel as personal as "Wow! What a great director!"

Your work with kids and mine with actors seems very similar (I'm not saying actors are like kids, though they tend to be in some ways.) I try to do to contradictory things at once. On the one hand, I try to force them to stick to certain rules -- I call these guideposts. The guideposts are those aspects of the story that MUST be performed the same way each night. If they are performed differently, then Macbeth is no longer Macbeth.

On the other hand, I push them to play freely BETWEEN those guideposts -- to BE anarchic. If they don't, then they're not exploring the story fully. They're not mining every possibility from it.

Jazz musicians do something similar when they are improvising. It can't be completely anarchic, or there's no relationship of the improvisation to the original melody. On the other hand, it can't be too constricted, or it's not improvisation.

With kids, I imagine that while you MUST enforce certain rules, you try to do so without killing their natural, healthy inclination to run wild. You let them run wild between guideposts.