Country Music contributors respond to this troubling sentence:
"As with much else, literary talent often remains underdeveloped unless markets reward it."
Taken from a New York Times editorial, you can find the entire article about art, economics, and how "money changed everything" here.
William Shakespeare was rowing
at walls of firsts.
Smash open the earthenware
and divide the
the height of the wall.
Virtual markets, command and write!
of stolen good.
The Poetry Market Is Not a Brontosaurus
I happen to agree that, unless markets reward it, literary talent can remain undevelopedas long as one defines markets as relative to the art form and the aim of the artist. The present market for poetry is thriving.
Often times the market rewards young poets in the form of seemingly negligible honoraria. Take, for example, a student of mine who is currently studying abroad in the Chinese city of Kunming. He located a foreign writer's club, went and read a few of his poems at an open mike, and won the first place door prize. He received a plate of cheese and a pair of Spongebob Squarepants socks. This wasn't negligible at all. He was thrilled.
So often, the market rewards me with a sandwich and a beer. Or maybe a $25 check that gets me and my wife out to a movie. I'm also lucky enough to live in western Massachusetts, where I am surrounded by poets and artists who publish each other, support each other, and buy each other sandwiches and beer.
We all have 4-4 teaching loads or mountains of debt or kids or day jobs that sausage-grind our brains into on-demand consumption machineswe all do. But that is exactly what makes the honoraria more and more meaningful, and the poems worth writing.
This article I get to write because I landed a few poems in Country Music. That is enough. A little I-get-to-do-this because I worked really hard on these poemsand I deserve it. And along with the honoraria comes correspondence and friendship.
Srečko Kosovel says it well: "Honoraria vary: they are large or small or non-existent. In fact, they are such that you can't live on them, but you wouldn't want to die without receiving any, for letting go of expectations would be a shame. True, honorarium is the goal in writing."
Not many poets are going to be on the ever-shrinking Barnes & Noble shelf, or have their masterpiece read by Garrison Keilor in his I'm-about-to-die voice on Prairie Home Companion. Of course not.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to the new-day Medici who will rise and put us all in employ. But in the mean time, as long as there are caring editors and readers of poetry who award young talent with plates of cheese and a pairs of socks, literary talent will continue to develop.
It's best if the writing of poetry remains somewhat of a struggle, always at least a little uncomfortable. Would we want professional poets churning out poems like it's work-to-pay-bills, & not work-to-have-your-being-survive? I wouldn't.
At her most insightful, Lady Macbeth said:
"My mitochondria make me make money."
Upon hearing it, Mr. H reached the past
by time machine and faced the offender.
"That's my phrase! Give it back!"
"I'll kill you!" said Lady Macbeth.
"Like you killed your husband?"
"How did you know?"
"I read books," said Mr. H.
Puzzled, Lady Macbeth brewed some tea.
I believe, in very simple terms, that time equals money, so much so that it's cliche. Cate Marvin, in a piece on Vidaweb.org, says publishing (including recognition from reviews and awards) = JOBS / GRANTS / RESIDENCIES / MONEY, which all equal time to write. As everyone knows, poetry does not usually equal money, in terms of a direct reward for your work per se, but without money to support the artist, even in indirect ways, there's less of what all writers need: the time to do what we do.
I've always heard from writers that they do it for the love of writing, or that they can't do anything else. I wonder, though, if books were just like MP3s, almost free, whether authors would write without remuneration. Would the love of readers or the thrill of putting words down on paper be enough to keep them going? And there are other rewards beyond money from selling bookslike a position as a professor of writing or awards from organizations. Would these extras be enough to inspire the same quality of work? Or would the best people leave the profession? It's hard to say, though in the music industry it seems to me, at least with indie music, that the quality continues apace.
I think mainly of poets like myself, and how they keep writing though there's no money in it at all. And there continues to be development of poets though the rewards are few. Would it be more developed if there was a bigger poetry market? I think it would be different, but perhaps not better. There would continue to be superb work, and work that is sub-par; the best wouldn't necessarily gain the most financially. In the end, there are too many other reasons for writers to continue writing, and therefore progressingsuch as boredom, desire, difficulty, and a need for creativity. The poetry world will continue to develop great writing whatever the reasons there are for it.
The sheriff paid one silver bullet per word,
which wasn't bad, but I always found the guys
in black boots far more fascinating.
They might have been more grizzled than muscled,
but if you dared to call them "underdeveloped,"
their skinny horses would haunt your dead city dreams.
What sort of reward can possibly compare
with being wanted and wanted and wanted?
The stark findings of this experiment? As with much else, literary talent often remains undeveloped
unless markets reward it.
from Would The Bard Have Survived the Web by Scott Turow, Paul Aiken and James Shapiro
The Bard Was the Web1
(A Response Largely Avoiding the Point)
To begin with, I think the weight we place upon such a statement is directly related to what we
define a market as. The authors here are specifically connecting the term market to an independent
consumers willingness to provide money (through what these authors seem to feel should be a societal
requirement) as compensation for literary talent. They also seem to infer a requirement that the Literary
Talent (the individual artist) maintain sole ownership of their talents product and be due the
compensation the viewing of such ownership warrants. This is the traditional, capital M, Market, our
collective American concept of which (read free) remains at the heart of why the NEA has functioned in
this country pretty much since its inception with a bright red Sarah Palinesque target on its Socialist
back. Considering this, could we, for the sake of the following, move market to the larger envelope of
what Ill call the interest of the citizenry; that is, the interest of those who will view said Talent (which
I will henceforth [mostly] refer to as Art)? It is through this lens (combined with the fall-back safety so
clearly present in its hedged use of the word often) that I am in partial (my hedge) agreement with the
quoted statement above, if not (vague hedge2) a tinge ambivalent to Turow(et al)s overall point.
It seems true (and even obvious) that unless rewarded in some form, talent will often remain
undeveloped.3 I place emphasis on those three words because I believe a true examination should consider the broadest possible definition of that concept. Part of the designation Im striving to put forth is that lack of reward (monetary or otherwise) does not negate potential artistic development, it just makes it, simply, much, much harder.4 The true argument here is what form this reward should take. There are
some Artists (and Im not denying their scarcity5) who need nothing more than the reward of personal
gratification (even in the most base of forms) and among those some there are a fewer some (increasingly scarce) who place personal artistic gratification as a higher priority than, say, food. This is an admirable dedication to Art. It is also where opponents of such programs as the NEA feel the merit of Art6 is registered. If her Art has merit, our gratified (artistically) yet hungry (biologically) Artist will find that
designation (having merit) rewarded by the market in a manner (monetarily, if were to take Turow
and his crews definition) that will, in all probable senses, help stem the waning tide of their biological
needs. Otherwise7, fulfilled yet meritless (market-wise), theyll starve.
Turow(et al)s point is that an individuals right to profit (in whatever way) from their
Art is key to the further individual development of that Art.8 My point is that its less the
reward of the market that should concern us than the citizenrys concern for the role of the
Artist. Money (and the willingness to spend it on Talent9) is an easy way to judge how much we
care about the product of someones Art. Whether we as a collective group care about that
persons role is, in my opinion, a more important question. Its not an issue of good or bad. Or
even talented or untalented. These are things we truly cannot know and reward until timetravel
becomes a functioning fixture of our reality.10 There is no legitimate way to judge that
which Art, at its core, is necessary for: contextualizing and reshaping the lens of our cultural
self-identity.11 The only way we can approach judgment is through a great deal of distance and
time. It is only after the realization of both that our ability to help the Individual Artist (if they
remain [for there is a necessitated waiting period of no short length] even remotely interested
in the concepts/work this allowance of time/distance was an attempt to qualify; or, more
realistically, if they are even still alive), in terms aiding their artistic aspirations, becomes
anything but dramatically far-fetched. Therefore, in terms of how best to foster Talent,
reward should be based (idealistically, of course, since Im not foolish enough to ignore the
Everest-esque size of the speed bumps reality would place on this proposition) on nothing but
the attempt. If someone is attempting Art it is/should be a (self-interest-driven) obligation of
society to respect and reward (without any hint of [and this is the under-explained (here)
key!] expected obligation to those [i.e. society] providing said reward) that attempt.
Otherwise the concept of a blind and fair development of an individuals Talent12 remains, as it
has predominantly been throughout the existence of constructed society, incredibly remote.13
1 But Can/Should We Blame/Thank It? [i.e. The Web, that which this piece allocates to The Bard, not the present
day technological phenomenon.]
2 The vaguery of which, over the course of what follows, is never addressed [sans right here, and here but
tangentially] or properly explained.
3 To bring this a little more in line with my personal take, Id perhaps [again, hedge] replace undeveloped with
under developed, but that is neither here nor there in the larger scheme
4 In a most face-value sense, reward minimizes the impact of the inherent laziness present in our species as a whole.
The combination of laziness and fear/self-preservation are the two largest factors dictating the level of dedication
[irregardless of talent] an individual artist invests in her craft. Those with grita feel this impact less. If graphed, the
grit-slope is positive and exponential.
a In recognition of space I hold the definition of grit, in this context, to be self-evident.
5 In fact, that is the point.
6 Which is [the merit is], for those of this mindset, viewed pitch-black-blinders-on as being dictated solely by the
7 And to be clear, were using to make this point [perhaps in a solely hypothetically-applicable way] the most
[unrealistically? (and I will not quite allow that question, at least beyond allowing it to remain
)] pure of Artist
[i.e. one whose life-goal is met by nothing short of pursuing the gratification of their artistic expression to the end of
8 And this is irrelevant as far as far as the gist of what Im blithering about here, but is it a little tough for anyone
else, even beyond apples and oranges, to heavy-handedly [as do Turow et ala] compare Shakespeares paywall to
internet piracy? Is there a true fundamental that bridges the gap?
a And given Turows professional position should we not loudly note the level of bias present in his analysis?
9 And this distinction in itself is troubling in that [to highlight and foreshadow the true dilemma] to do so assumes
members of the Artists society are able to agree upon a clear definition of what is and is not a representation of
Talent. [Again, see history of turmoil re: the NEA.]
10 And even then you get into a Biff-as-mayor-and-Martys-mom-with-a-boob-job type of you-probably-shouldntfuck-with-it scenario.
11 If this cannot be accepted [and by no means am I saying it is foolish not to], the reader would do a great favor to
themselves by ceasing to entertain this response beyond this point [irregardless of the fact that you have already thus
far ingested 54.53% of this opinions whole] and, in the interest of preventing a lingering desire to scoff, consider this
authors suggestion that it may behoove you to do your best to erase what you have already read from your memory.
[If I may, it (that which you have so far read) should still be confined to the short-term portion of your recall so, if
interested, there are a variety of substances (legal and otherwise) you may make use of that have been proven to
hinder (and in some cases prevent entirely) recall in these areas of your brain. To this end (assuming this end is your
desire), I would recommend immediate, copious and repeated employment of said substances, just to be sure.]
12 Of course, this holds that intrinsic Talent is not, in itself, the sole difference maker. I, personally, hold it as
something indefinable/unrecognizable [in full] without the application of the distance/time lens.
13 Obviously its tough [impossible?] to believe that Kafka would be Kafka if he was, during his lifetime, supported by
society in a way that allowed him to in any way better [than he was able to] focus on Art. In fact, we can just as
easily state that his work was the direct result of a lack of reward. Here Turow (et al)s Shakespeare example is an
apt comparison of the reverse. But I would posit the following: did Shakespeare mean more to his immediate time or
to the hundreds of years that followed? Also: was the paywall more responsible for Shakespeare than the following
monarchal support? What plays were lost due to the royal obligation? The Bards talent was developed, but was it
not also refocused? Ditto Kafka, re the circumstances of his everyday life. How would any societal fostering have
shifted development? Is it reasonable to assume The Trial would have been completed in a way that held true to the
original, pre-fostering intent? How many people were writing serious poetry in, say, the 1800s? Out of them, how
many can we name? Grains of sand, by chance, distinguished from the beach. What was lost? Gained? Beyond the
philosophical, it is not possible to say that with grander/blinder support we would have gained more than was lost or
that we would even gain what we did, societally. Finnegans Wake is unpublishable without the name of Joyce. Was the publication of the book something gained from Joyces reward for having written Ulysses? Without the benefit of
hindsight/foresight, is it not just to ask if such rewards [←in specific and sole reference to my definition of
Finnegan's as Joyces, not in any connection to the general discussion of reward the remainder of this opinion
makes] should be more easily [and less as a result of the confluence of talent and lucka] obtained?
a Luck] here defined as the confluence [pardon the double-tap vocab-wise] of all the zeitgeist has to offer.
Philanthropists spend remainders
applying cotton balls and adhesives
to knees bent in life-long hauls without
in a world well-wishers own.
Charity feeds relief to conscience
that knows a greater good rots on vines.
Philip Byron Oakes
The correlation between the creation of lasting poetry and any economic remuneration received by the author seems historically spotty to me. Far be it from me to argue against copyright protections, but poets write, well, because they have to.
Though this article talks about money, I don't want to conflate market rewards with dollars. In poetry reward is often publication, which leads to audience. So: does literary talent go underdeveloped if it doesn't find audience? I suspect that this is partly true. I know, for me, that having a sense of an audience for my work (which includes both the fact that I have been lucky enough to publish poems, but also that I have identified presses & journals that publish the kinds of work I like to read) has helped me to growthe activities of publishing & reading have pushed my own creative work into areas that I might not have gotten myself to yetor ever. However, I know many poets who haven't published widely or at all, who still struggle every day, who still have something to offer. I think ultimately, whether rewarded or not, a Poet needs to push themselves daily, hourly, to keep defining themselves as an artistboth through creating new art & experiencing existing art. At the end, though "market rewards"/affirmation may have a temporary effect on the development of the artist, the final analysis is always the final analysisthe work itself.
How are we supposed to feel about a song we ostensibly love being used
in a commercial? We're supposed to feel indignant. That's how we
should feel. We're supposed to feel that the songwriter has sold out,
but somehow we've lost that feeling. The tech boom made us all feel
like everyone could have everything. That is, it made us feel that
you could be a rich artist and that that was okay. We were lulled
into this way of thinking by the domestication of the Internet.
Domestication, in the eyes of technology scholars, "refers to how
technology is incorporated into the everyday patterns of the users..."
That is, it refers to the process of becoming totally enmeshed in our
lives as the Internet is now. During the tech boom we thought
everyone could be a content provider and flip houses and then be an
artist at night and it was alright. Alexi Murdoch is a product of
this mentality, but I assume it will soon exit the scene as the
cultural repercussions of the global financial crisis are truly felt.
The last time a recession hit us we were given slackers, grunge, and
Reality Bites (1994). The choices were clear: you could be romantic,
philosophical, and unemployable Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke) or you could
be the cynical, striving, rich, and ultimately thick and heartless
Michael Grates (Ben Stiller). There was nowhere to stand between
these two poles. This movie was really important for me (or, not the
movie, but the feelings it summed up) and it's really how I see the
world. Of course, what happened in the intervening 15 years between
now and then was that the Internet became domesticated. In this day
and age, Winona Ryder's character, Lelaina Pierce, could reach the
masses by posting her soulful video on a venerable social network.
That is, the Internet killed gatekeepers such as Stiller's Michael
Grates, but this entailed completely unleashing the narcissism at the
heart of Winona Ryder's efforts to find herself (in the context of our
current era these tendencies are normally offset by the harsh reality
of the world: the world is anti-art; this saves us from our own
narcissism). This is perhaps why Winona Ryder now seems so irrelevant;
she's really of another moment in time. The world really has changed
since the making of Reality Bites; it has changed in ways that make
our favorite song's placement in a Honda commercial seem okay. Mainly
the economy has boomed since then. That is, instead of working at a
gas station, Troy might be a self-satisfied content provider and
social entrepreneur (we don't sell out anymore, we do social
entrepreneurship). If the movie were made a couple of years ago,
Lelaina and Troy would have been lulled into their comfortable lives
as vectors on a social network (but it is my belief that the current
downturn in the economy will do much to bring back the important
choices that art demands). This rising tide buoyed the fortunes of
many artists, but in my heart of hearts I still think the choice is
clearer than we are sometimes made to believe: either you justify
yourself in terms of the art you make or you justify yourself in other
terms. You either get art or you don't. You can't have it all; it's
art or something else. It's not so confusing. Those other terms
invade the soul. Those other terms are rationalized into their own
sphere just as the artworld is rationalized into its own hermetically
sealed sphere. The problem is that the non-linguistic medium of money
can invade any sphere it likes. It can pay you to think differently
about the teleology of your own sphere. But this is what I believe,
maybe other things are possible, but it's what I believe. These other
possibilities were the promise of the intervening years. That is, the
booming economy made the choice of art seem unnecessary. But as
Warren Buffett has said, "Only when the tide goes out do you discover
who's been swimming naked." In the current downturn, the language of
sell-outs and authenticity will return (I hope). That is, the choice
of art will seem (as it always actually has been) essential,