The Commodification of Art and the Illusions of Capitalism

“I could always live in my art but never in my life”

– Ingmar Bergman

Art is the last line of defense against authoritarian control, and artists are contemporary shamans delivering message. The eternal protectors of this little light of mine. Within the artist resides connection to source that rejects what is diseased within the soul of humanity. The artist courageously holds the lamp of truth in the darkness when all other luminaries have absconded into the void. 

The premonitions of the artist are what defines an epoch until the pendulum swings and signal degradation renders the vision inert, at which point a new message is necessary. A new plan must be envisioned with sufficient emotional thrust behind it to launch an incipient vision into being, and propel us to escape velocity out of the gravitational lure of petrified ideologies that entrap our minds in cultural falsehoods. Art provides a perspective shift, and it’s the artist’s conscious awareness tuned into a vibrational hum resonating at a precise frequency that shakes apart the inset stagnation of the masses, laying waste to their broken institutions, and illuminating a path to the genesis of novel ideas.

Deduction, experience, and empathizing with a myriad of emotional dispositions are the catalysts of artistic creativity. The authentic artist’s world is unencumbered by boundaries, yet an insular place – personal, esoteric, and unsullied. A world where potentialities run free in creative bursts; new artistic rhythms foment in a semi-lucid state of alchemical flow where high level conscious interfaces interpret and connect meta understandings together coalescing a wide range of ideas into aesthetically pleasing simplicity.

The artist bounds in and out of feelings and interpretations to land at greater truth giving rise to an array of mental copulations where attracting and repulsing polarities sets imagination gravid, and nascent creative thought manifests into reality via the artist’s choice of medium. A layering of ideas and concepts is fused together until an unblinking mosaic becomes a unified thought construct that consists of many things, but is also a unique thing in its own right, and this is how a genuine piece of art is born.

Conversely a commodified piece of art comes into being by the creator asking a single question “What will sell?” Art becomes a lie when the artist wants to sell you work so they can pay the rent and feed themselves, a worthy purpose for their money, but under dire financial pressures it’s unlikely the artist will produce their first creative impulse, rather they will produce what they think will sell first, at times these things may coincide, but usually not.

Commodification stagnates artistic growth like it would a relationship where a lover only says things they think you want to hear, you may not have anything outright objectionable to say about them since they are agreeing with you all the time, but the hollow feeling is there. The majority of art released by major media companies are just like that sycophantic lover, forever selling themselves out to what they believe will create maximum profits with little regard to any sincere attempt at anything other than hitting that quarterly projection, the result of obsequious pandering to audiences is insipid, feckless, trite, kowtowing dreck. Pandering to an audience cheapens art and creates a lineage of obsequious behavior that erodes authenticity.

“An artist is always alone-if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness

– Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

The art today reflects the lack of a critical incubation period for comprehensive work to come into being. Western society has always had a pacing problem, but in the overpopulated smart phone era the pace has accelerated; thus mostly what we receive are shards of rushed out concepts, or mildly altered rehashes of better told tales. 

If one should follow the prescribed path laid before you by parents, teachers, and institutions there is rarely a moment of solitude. Never a moment to collect your thoughts with a fresh mind. Never a moment where germination of an idea can hit maturity, no ability for minds to think and rid themselves of the lies of the ego which muddles the canvas of thought. 

Hyper-competitive capitalist culture weaponizes the ego, it lauds arrogance as healthy sense of extroversion and assertiveness. Trophies, awards, accolades, degrees, the panoply of plaudits to puff up plutocrats; well credentialed victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect. All that perfunctory self serving pomposity promoted in capitalist culture is passé, and serves more to embolden egos instead of quell them in equanimity. The self serving individualistic parade of it’s all-about me-ism might play to a crowd who chases after the fleeting joy of material gain, but it is death to art and to the detriment of all.

At a rushed pace of life, artistic message becomes impeded both when it is being made and when it is consumed. A fearful panicked mind needing to pay bills cannot see past itself, and the artist’s most powerful weapon is vision, the more narrow and constrained the waking awareness the more limited the creative work will be. Likewise, audiences cannot wrap their minds around nuanced thought when they are lost in the worries of a hyperconnected world and can’t let themselves be absorbed in artistic work so it can be understood as intended. Through commodification an intellectual downward spiral locks into place, a slide where dumbed down hurried art is then half understood by the cluttered minds of contemporary audiences, and when capitalists attempt to then again adapt the art to sell to ever more busied minds the art will continue to degrade, and the people continue to descend into more simplistic frames of thought. This cycle represents the decline of reason, wisdom, and spiritual connection, all slowly asphyxiated by blind greed.

When an artist is given a deadline there are immediately choices that must be made as to what can be afforded to be done and what must be cut, the repercussions of often have a direct impact on quality as almost all of us are feeling the downward pressures of a restricted money supply and the demands that places on our time. Capitalism is corrosive acid to creativity. It is a dulling force of assimilation, necrosis of the connective tissue that is authentic human bonding, trust, and common good will. Capitalism has appropriated the human experience, missing in action are calm sunny afternoons with nothing to do, missing are the forests that should be speaking to you at early dawn, missing is the magic of a moonlit ocean on starry night, also missing is the community of people that would have been your extended family and plugged those desperate needs for validation with human compassion; and this is all because capitalism makes more money by keeping everyone isolated and desperate. Sharing is an evil to capitalism and a necessity to humans to survive. In this very direct way capitalism is antithetical to human cooperation, evolution, or even immediate survival. 

All these basic things are stolen from the majority of society and replaced with morning commutes, dreary one bedroom apartments featuring a view of more apartments, the life wasting jobs, and glowing screens that promise or allude to having better things yet never delivers. This economic system takes our art and stylizes it in advertisements and bully-pulpit announcements to convince us to desire things that will only create more misery in our lives. 

The supposed real world is a profit motivated stencil overlay of reality. A reality where we are only allowed to draw within specified lines which run along the most cheaply contrived tracks maneuvering to the reality capitalism defines for us. Most all things are done in some relation to money, which is a man-made fabrication, aka humanity’s proud shackles, as a result, the tentacles of money weave through the flow of daily life interceding honesty at all levels. 

The illusion cast by money is so powerful people find it unimaginable that living without it is possible even though many cultures have before. Art helps us see past the illusion of the capitalist overlay, and discover nothing about capitalism is truth, and if we were to assess what capitalism is doing in terms of need there is scant done which is truly needed for human contentment that couldn’t be done in an alternative sustainable way and without all the authoritarian fascist control that is endemic within capitalism. Of course those ways are avoided because it means less money is being funneled to our rulers who view the people as an asset to be exploited just like rest of earth’s resources, the narcissist capitalist mind is lost in thoughts of “How can this benefit me?”

Free market unfettered capitalism is the great appropriator, and our tie to truth is subverted via this appropriation. We begin to conflate values that are fundamental to us with the establishment’s icons, Orwellian utterances, brands, leaders, and manufactured art sold for an audience.

Money buys a voice and many an artist often feels they have to make a significant amount money to have a voice and in doing so they must tread down that path of selling out. Few can maintain their integrity for long before promotions and money making schemes are mostly what they do over the art that brought them the initial success. That’s what money does. It rots out the core so the shell can be reproduced and sold off in mass quantity.

This commodification effect has been rolling along for quite a while now, but now it seems to have reached an acceleration that is noticeably trekking towards corporate society consuming all, while pretending to be all, and offering nothing substantial in return.

Most authenticity was sold off long ago in contractual obligations and copyrighted royalty deals. A clever arrangement of papers signed and percentages held, it’s a groundbreaking deal I assure you, but the result of that contractual obligation is art in a precipitous fall towards collapse along with the economy, the climate, and the earth’s ability to sustain life. This is what decline feels like – the rehashed dumbed down clones of movies, music, books, the obliteration of poetry, the rise of faux cinéma vérité…all these longstanding indications of depleted creativity are all symptoms of a commodified people without much left to say of any importance. 

Because novel ideas are untested and unreliable in capitalist markets, media distribution companies are less likely to take a risk especially when there are proven commodities that are almost guaranteed to break even. Better to get those sure thing dollars and bank on what you know works rather than take a chance. Our money is repressing us in the most vile ways. The capitalist dictum has nothing to do with competitive ideas fighting in free markets, but rather to amass capital and use it to control and box out markets with the leverage gained by owning distribution channels.

What is now termed the “far left” has long sought to rekindle what was stamped out in the 60s, an artistic-egalitarian-sexual-social-economic-spiritual revolution, but you can never get there without first ridding ourselves of the illogical falsehoods which have polluted the arguments of the people, e.g. the Democratic and Republican parties, moderates, and other such gutless variations of political abomination who are all people ultimately, though misled, and unable to gain truthful reflection so they can snap out of the lies that have captured their minds. 

The decline of our culture is not hidden, it’s emblazoned onto signs and promoted during the intermission of modern gladiator fights. In a time of such obvious decline we find our mouths are most inhibited to speak truth. Artists have become tamed by money, they aren’t being edgy very often these days, they are just scheduling more dates to make money at gigs. Our capacity to live on the Earth with 7+ billion people is diminishing rapidly while the population continues to grow, meanwhile the cavalcade of artists we need to howl truth into the night are almost entirely owned by, run by, and catering to the pursuit of money; this offers about as much resistance to authoritarianism as the Democratic party.

While we come perilously close to the edge of oblivion, our artists are not publicly questioning authority enough, nor are they in great enough numbers, they are not questioning how this state came into being, or why did it ever become acceptable for so few to wield power over so many while collecting children for wars that kill innocents with vain arrogance, why did stealing land from peaceful indigenous people empower those same genocidal people to then charge us rents so we may use what they stole, and they do all this horror while also shaming us for not working hard enough in our jobs that are serving only the wealthy while sending us into a mass extinction event, how did this bizarre logic of the normalized status quo come to take hold of our minds?

And we continue to stand by the same philosophies that performed said horrors, they are installed and operating as always, the same tyrannical social hierarchies are at play that have been so for thousands of years, and these are the dominant realms of thought still pulling the levers of economic action in the world today.

The spell cast on Americans by sustained propaganda hides the ills of our society like for instance massive social inequality and its origins. This society never was voluntary or collaborative with the will of the people. Like people of the western civilizations over the past several thousand years we are ruled. The US constitution is art commodified with pretty words of the enlightenment but the teeth of those words are missing, use of other words provide no end to the exceptions they allow to their logical antecedents like all that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness stuff, this in effect nullifies those pretty worlds and opts for the dictum of tyrants.

This system, in aggregate, is a brutal a racket, and artful use of words and media must expose the lies this capitalist system is built upon. There is a native American proverb that says “It’s easy to be brave at a distance”, and this is usually true, to see something externally we may say we’d do this or that in a given situation, but in reality to be brave in the moment takes real guts, real clarity, and ability to see not just what is in front of us but where these ideas will take us, this is the role of the artist to edify others with greater truth held to reason, a role I’d argue we’d all do well to take up on occasion. It is the mind of the artist that must awaken the people from their long slumber.

Capitalists prey on artistic souls, the chain of events set forth by the need for making money ends up consuming the light of many artists physically and emotionally. It either makes them poor, sellouts, or dead, and it does it because it knows fluid truthful creative ideation means the end for capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t hold up to scrutiny in any capacity, thus is doesn’t take kindly to the very thing it purports to promote, competition. Capitalism is again, antithetical to any human benefit, so it must lie and present itself as perceived good, while it uses money both directly and indirectly to stifle artistic impulse, which serves to control the voice of so many who wish to truthfully speak out.

And in closing, the commodification art was perhaps most artfully addressed by recently deceased writer Ursula Le Guin who spoke on the subject in 2014:

Right now we need writers who know the difference between the production a market commodity and the practice of an art…Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship…Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant and tell us what to publish and what to write…the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art.

We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable, (but) so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art; the art of words…the name of our beautiful reward is not profit, it is freedom.

Part I of The Commodification of Art can be read here.