The Commodification of Art in the Prelude to Eschaton

“No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty . . . what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse . . .”

– Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

Creating authentic art demands the lies be washed clean, and out of that purified spring good taste is learned.  Good taste demands we kill ourselves to find authenticity in a world of lies and disingenuous people. Perhaps literally killing yourself is too dramatic, but death of the subconscious competitive inner salesman is imperative if one is to take the briefest of sojourns into truth. The lies must find death via some means, acceptance of the real or a bare bodkin.

Art runs counter to all that is fake. Art that fibs is advertising of some nature, and all art that beats rhythms of falsehood and does so with an ulterior motive is propaganda. But good art beats the lies from its heart as to flush a toxin, it washes ego from its system, and beats pure, beats clean.

And if one is going to take literal suicide as pathway to find freedom from lies you have to admire the likes of Kurt Cobain who was at least not so gauche to continue living. As others noted, he did the only thing a trapped successful artist could think to do in a world so commodified, he blew his top off before it started smiling and selling pickup trucks. Hey man, nice shot. Yet still, he could have turned and faced something other than the shotgun, but resolve is often in short supply throughout many periods of our lives, art is a release, but sometimes it’s not enough to cut to the core fast enough before we run out of coping mechanisms.

Not that you should kill yourself, at least don’t blame me, and don’t do so on my idea of getting closer to pure artistic expression. However the recent uptick in those who desire to make themselves bloody pez dispensers is certainly not due to my inspirations. It’s just the collective snappy crunch of a consciousness at large that can no longer repress its whirring mind to keep reality out of the present moment. Not enough drugs, not enough noise, as musician K. Flay lyrically states – Not enough blood in the cut. Not enough super shill halftime shows to tempt us into getting lost in the Pavlovian dinging of microwaves one more time.

The likes of Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman…They were all invested into drugs and/or lifestyles that kill art. Bad relationships, alcohol, coke, heroin, antidepressant pharmaceuticals – drugs that numb out the mind rather than explore it. The sticky truth was too loud, at odds with their lives, and they wanted out rather to endure another moment of whatever their personal torments were. Capitalism must shoulder part of the blame, it represses, constricts choices, and offers solutions that aren’t solutions at all, just options to continue the drudgery.  If psychedelics were more available over numbing agents you have to think some suicidal tendencies could have been foregone, one can only surmise at this point, but not even fame and success in a field artists love is enough to reach stasis, as success in capitalism can feel like a betrayal of truth.

“What have I eaten?  Lies and smiles.” – Sylvia Plath

The owners, they smile at you and use best practices to ascertain the proper work environment that makes them richest to maximum extent – all they understand in this frame is the game of leverage and competition which capitalism has put before them. Capitalists take what you love and use it like a carrot in front of you. They use it to prod you along into their system. The predatory system has studied the human cows and learned what motivates just enough to entice – but will never let you go free. The predator has become sophisticated and money is its indirect tool, its con game of choice.

Currency is deprived from the populace to keep them starved regardless of material resources actually available, and the owners replace human animal virtues with their own self serving recommendations to public behavior, such as becoming hard working champion of anhedonic values and wearing it as absurd badge of nobility. The ability to be tough and endure pain a mark of strength among the blue collared, they don’t want to be no faggot pussies – at least that’s the non-euphemistic version of what the grumbly tough talking adverts are selling you between entertainment sessions of muscled brutes smashing into each other. Virtues like avoiding certain drugs or never missing a day of work, this capitalist system venerates people who have prioritized dominance culture profiteering over a free life worthy of living.

To be a hard working boring fuck has become the bullshit cry of the ostensibly virtuous in many a job interview. People begging and pleading to be better slaves, telling employers why they are the best slave for the slave work, and subsequently after landing a job as lead slave they snoot down on those that don’t agree with their workaday worldview. The word slave is overused just like the word “fascist” – hence it lost impact and gained eye rolls when it’s bandied about loosely. So I use the term slave only for accuracy, as when you can’t quit working for someone else without your ability to survive being threatened then you are a slave to that person. Chattel slavery was more brutal, but the employer to employee relationship is identical in its coercive effects, we are simply more politically correct to our slaves now because it makes more economic sense. But I digress, employers promote hoop jumpers, cost cutters, and anything to boost that short term bottom line. Art deals in none of this.

The development of the artist is something much different than the capitalist employee. Artists require incubation time to refine their connection and master their medium where they must become aware, questioning of boundaries, and feel an emotional kick behind it. Making art requires you be fucking alive. It isn’t sold. At least the authentic parts of any of it don’t originate from the idea of selling it. What truth trickles out of mainstream art was not done to receive a bonus, although a bonus may have been received. Ideas expressed by the artist are born into existence despite being sold in a capitalist system, because they can’t stop the signal, Mal.

Artists who desire to mainline truth don’t shake out well in these systems. Good art isn’t promoted, it’s suppressed in preference of the easily cloned styles that can be put at eye level and entice the lowest common denominator. Capitalist enterprise takes the hooks of other art that may have spoke truth to you before and attempts to copy it to make more revenue. It’s never quite the same when it’s repackaged, commodified art is stamped out and dead on arrival cultural swill, market tested with built in audiences and projected sales make it a sure commodity, and it’s a sure thing you consumed something similar last month only arranged slightly different. We all sense we’re being fed something flavorless even though it looks just like the succulent sandwich we once had. But that ain’t it, Jack.

The lack of drug is a drug in itself, everything we imbibe drugs us, every piece of art or creation is a drug to potentially numb you out or make you alive. Desperation is a state capitalism thrives within. It creates a desperation, then leads you around in this state which you’ll do almost anything to feel, and that includes violence and wars. Capitalism pits us against each other in systems we don’t wish to participate but have no other choice, or at least that’s what we are led to believe.

Art removes the veil capitalism places over us. Holds a light up to to how we have abandoned what is true and meaningful. It shows us the fluorescent lights and office cubes are robbing you of a better life. The struggle between repression of truth and the artists oft painful expression of it has been an ongoing problem since the predatory social hierarchies have taken root. Because so much social planning is shoved in minds it takes people who can see past business as usual to deliver the message that this capitalist illusion is a deterrence from nature. Art seeks to reconnect the communication to source that has been lost.

Artists are often more empathetic and plugged into a connection of feeling they use to cut through the layers of bullshit and hit something true laying underneath this boondoggle culture. These artists, thinkers, iconoclasts go to great personal trouble and expense to communicate, and they are putting it out there bravely. It’s too bad some of the worst are made rich and famous merely because they could sell something, and conversely some of the more worthy made poor and unrecognized because they didn’t have a preinstalled audience.

“In this century Ezra Pound called the artist “the antennae of the race.” Art as radar acts as “an early alarm system,” as it were, enabling us to discover social and psychic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them.” – Marshall McLuhan

If artists are the early alarm system presciently mirroring the sentiments of the whole and many of the more notable of them have teetered on suicide at some stage, then perhaps we should start listening to their unhappiness. You might say trying to pin this on capitalism and not personal responsibility is a contrived argument. I’d say blaming the desire to kill oneself solely on a personal reasons is facile. It’s facile to ignore how the socio-economic dynamics of both law and cultural expectation weigh on the lives of many within a society. And while artists often are among the first to rid themselves of unnecessary weight of conformity, as their art acts as a rebellious buffer to succumbing to the grey, but playing iconoclast is a draining task.

Iconoclasts receive endless repudiation before they are accepted even moderately, and that’s when they have something of value to say. Thus when an artist is choosing a style or topic of art they are well aware of what is a bankable sale and easy to do, and that which may be unpopular but important. Too often taking a convenient paycheck is the end result, and more truthful expression is repressed.

The system each of us endures seeks to ensnare minds and homogenizes thought in a natural funneling process that occurs when capitalism attempts to cut costs and market test for what sells and then feeds that back into their designs. Creates a regurgitation loop of shit.

Accountant minds should never make decisions. The result is almost always a cursory half baked simpleton idea of burning down the world if it makes the balance sheet look better.  The corporate world allows for art and ideas to exist in direct relation to how much they can sell of it and how quickly, if it gets too edgy, where ideas don’t fully endorse selling out to powers that be then there is a good chance they will be ignored. The burn-out of genres occurs quickly due to the cowboy philosophy of getting while the gettin is good on flavor of the month trends – zombies for instance, metaphor exquisite contemporaine.

People overall are mostly tranquilized in their existence until they feel something. Years may go by and then a movie, a piece of music, a painting, or why gosh darn heck maybe even a little well crafted essay may hit us in a way that vibrates the proper inner chord to strike nerve.  It’s when that little thistle of truth has burrowed its way in that life in a commodified society becomes maddening. The cognitive dissonance pains the mind. The artist is left with three plausible options – become enlightened (dropout), sellout, or perish.

The art is running thin, this culture is running thin, and our ability to sustain in this way much longer is rapidly collapsing environmentally. Art is playing in a loop, as is intellectual and social evolution, which has come to a grinding stop in the face of predatory capitalism. The lies sell ever faster, zombies consume ever more, and the eschaton of a global civilization awaits.

Jason Holland is a writer, you can read more at his blog Reasonbowl. Contact him at or on twitter @ReasonBowl