Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1914) by Robert Tressell


Book Review
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
(1914) by Robert Tressell

  I wasn't particularly irate at having to read this 650 page ish portrait of workers in the building trades in Edwardian England, even though half the book is simply diatribes about the plight of the working class, because it was free, and because I have plenty of time.  At the same time, be me so humble to suggest that The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell is not, in fact, one of the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.  Although this list is exclusively fiction with a heavy emphasis on the Novel, this same subject (the plight of the English working class) is best treated in a non-fiction title, E.P Thompson's, The Birth of the English Working Class.  Even in terms of fiction there are better titles that are not even included in the 1001 Books volume.

 For example, Frank Norris wrote The Octopus(1901), which is essentially about the same subject/different milieu (Californian agricultural workers vs. English building trades.)   To its credit, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is about as quick a read as a 600 page plus, early 20th century novel focused entirely on the plight of the working class can be.  Would I suggest anyone else in the world read this book? No I would not.  Replace it with The Octopus by Frank Norris, that is my suggestion.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Important Role of "Followers" in Establishing A Lasting Artistic Legacy



  A really influential book in developing my personal view about the creation and maintenance of an Artistic legacy is the Sociology of Philosophies (Belnap/Harvard Press, 1998) by Randall Collins. This book is about intellectual networks of philosophers, and specifically deals with the ways ideas were passed around these networks. Although Collins' examples are limited by the field of philosophy, he advances multiple ideas that resonate with the "social network" influenced world of today, as well as ideas whose significance extends well beyond the fields of philosophy or social science.

 Although it isn't the central premise of his book, many of Collins' ideas fall under the broadly described title of "rock star studies," or the study of how certain individuals manage to exert a disproportionate influence on others they encounter.  There have been many takes on this idea from vastly different academic fields: sociology, anthropology, history, economics, not to mention it popping up in non academic fields like music (from wherein the "rock star" emerged), film (the movie star.)

 One specific point that Collins makes repeatedly in Sociology of Philosophies, is that brilliant ideas don't mean a whole lot if they don't attract other people. There are numerous examples of philosophers suffering in their lifetimes and only having their ideas vindicated after death.  These are typically individuals who are socially isolated or otherwise have trouble connecting with others.   At the other end of the spectrum, succesful philosophers typically operated at the center of existing intellectual networks and/or exerted a pull of personality on those who followed him.

 My spin on this analysis made by Collins is that a modern Artist should seek to elevate lesser known Artists by helping in the writing, recording, marketing and distribution of newer Artists.  Such activity can be oriented towards profit makind OR it can be done pro-bono in recognition of the reputational benefits and added career benefits that come from developing artistic "followers." 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

By the Open Sea (1890) by August Strindberg

August Strindberg doing his best David Lynch impression.


Book Review
By the Open Sea (1890)
by August Strindberg
Penguin Classics Edition

  I've got a bad case of Sweden on the brain!  Swedish rock bands (Hologram show review), Swedish films (Bergman entirely) and Swedish novels.  By the Open Sea was a tough get- had to actually order the Penguin Classics edition off of Amazon to read it.  I've been thinking a lot about Strindberg because of all the Ingmar Bergman films I've been watching.  Strindberg got his start as a play wright, and surely it is no coincidence that Bergman directed many of his works while he ran the Malmo Civic Theater prior to his film career taking off.

 By the Open Sea is Strindberg doing a character study of a "nervous intellectual" with Nietzschian overtones.  He is no Nietzchian super man to be sure, quite the opposite, so sensitive is he that a bad cup of coffee disables him for hours at a time. Axel Borg is appointed the government fisheries adviser in a remote part of Sweden.  Upon arrival he strikes up an instant dislike for the populace, leavened only by his rapid engagement to the comely Miss Maria.

 Of course, it all goes wrong, up and down, for old Axel, and by the end of the 185 page book he is reduced to not showering, not bathing, and being pelted with rocks by the small children of the village.  By the Open Sea is another early entrant in the proto-existentialist world that was spurred by Nietzsche's work in the 1880s.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Optimal Economic Conditions for Artistic Production


 I gladly cop to any accusation that I am "reductionist" in my more esoteric musings about music and business.  The point of my writing in the areas of music business and aesthetics is simply develop my own model so I can then run that model.  Personally, I don't want it to be over complicated/over elaborate- I think that is a common mistake when it comes to theories and ideas, "too complicated."

 I am very interested in the optimal economic conditions for artistic production. The marriage of artistic inspiration to capitalist marketing and sale of art is such a complex and difficult subject, fraught with examples of failure.  There is a conflict between the optimum economic conditions for artistic production and the production of art itself that make any discussion a difficult task simply in terms of finding a common vocabulary to discuss both subjects. At least, on the economic side of the "equation" you have a language for quantification.

 When you are talking about "Artistic Production" you are getting into a grey area, because after all, what is art?  The art I'm talking about is art that has an audience, or art that seeks an audience, by being displayed in public. Privately created art, not avail to any sort of public audience, doesn't count for this discussion.

 The essential exchange here is the artist obtaining money in such a fashion that is sufficient to allow for artistic freedom, without surrendering said artistic freedom for said money.  In other words, the provision of money sufficient to create artistic freedom often requires that the artist surrender that same freedom in exchange for the money.  Take the money, lose your artistic freedom.

  Thus, the optimal economic conditions for artistic production are a kind of riddle.  How do you obtain the necessary funds for freedom without surrendering freedom for money?  The answer is to reduce the scale of the enterprise, so that the amount of money required for artistic freedom, and resulting in a steady stream of sellable products for the artist, is at its lowest possible point.

  An illustration of what I'm talking about, is best framed in the context of the production and distribution costs for an LP.  Starting with production costs, in 2013 those can go from zero to millions.  The optimal condition for artistic production is not zero, but it isn't a million plus either.  Another illustration is the amount that the artist obtains for the necessaries of life, food, shelter, entertainment, art supplies, etc.  Here, we are looking at a number that needs to be something substantially more than zero, but again, where a figure of hundreds of thousand or millions is simply not OPTIMAL to ensure further artistic production.  Quite the opposite: An artist who makes millions from their art can be less likely to produce new art than an artist who is making NOTHING.

  Another plus side of keeping those production, personal living expenses LOW is that it places less pressure on the Artist to appeal to the broadest possible general Audience.  Securing a personal income in the hundreds of thousands or millions REQUIRES appealing to the broadest possible audience.  Trying to make 50k a year, DOES NOT, surviving on 25k a year even less so.  Thus it is a slam dunk that the optimal economic conditions exist at the lower end of the scale in terms of the exchange of money for art, but that there must be an exchange or the risk is that the art will cease to exist because the artist will choose to do something else with their time.  Sad but true. 

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