Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

The Government Hates Young Workers, Especially Women

Saturday, April 10th, 2010
LANSING, MI - MARCH 17:  Michigan Democratic P...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I had no idea the topic of unpaid internships was so contentious when I first blogged about it on Let’s Level the Playing Field by Ruining Everyone’s Chances, as it elicited vociferous and emotional responses from readers and fellow arts bloggers alike. I assumed it was clear that by forcing arts organizations to pay set wages for specific periods of time, it would reduce the availability of internships and ultimately hurt the pool of hopeful interns trying to get their foot in the door. In the already-competitive world of the arts, depriving interns of choices just makes it that much more difficult to get necessary experience and resume-building opportunities.

Since then, the unpaid internship debate has been making some headlines, with pro and con opinions abounding online.

Wall Street Journal, “War on Interns: Making It Illegal to Work for Free”

While the Department of Labor may insist the world owes these kids a living, the truth is that many young workers are willing to trade free labor for a chance to demonstrate their skills and build a resume for the next job. Especially in a bad labor market, the choice college students face may be to work without pay, or hang by the beach.

This isn’t exploiting young people. It’s letting young people exploit an opportunity.

The Washington Examiner, “Obama’s war on internships (and female employment)

Pricing interns out of the market proves especially salient for women, who make up 76 percent of the internship pool nationwide, according to the American Psychological Association. When opportunities evaporate for would-be unpaid interns, women will be the hardest hit.

The Future Majority “Unpaid Internships Bridge on Slave Labor

Despite the overall con opinion, even Future Majority writer says,

I’ll admit I did unpaid internships while in college full time and working part time and many of the innovative online experiments I run in campaigns I am only able to do with the support of a staff of unpaid internships because campaigns don’t want to pay their staff to try new things. So I rely very heavily on interns both for support staff and for new and sometimes crazy ideas.

To be clear, it appears the administration is only cracking down on unpaid internships with for-profit organizations, which seems it would not greatly affect non-profit arts organizations, but who knows what the future holds.

The major flaw in thinking with those who want to crack down on unpaid internships is they believe organizations will replace all previous unpaid job opportunities with paid opportunities and pull from the same pool of unexperienced workers. Like it or not, most internships often include a component of “real” work in addition to the educational experience that is supposed to be provided, and employers offering internships are likely to be more discriminating about the prior experience of applicants when they have to pay for it. Furthermore, it seems odd to have to pay a student to give them an education – this model is unlike any educational model I’ve seen – which all require payment by the student for their learning experience (either through tuition or taxpayer support).

The most amusing response I read on the topic shed light on the ultimate hypocrisy of our government in this debate. From Donald Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek:

It’s unclear, however, why the same young people whom the President judges to be unfit to choose for themselves whether or not to work as unpaid interns at for-profit firms are fit to choose for themselves whether or not to work as unpaid interns at not-for-profit organizations.  So I urge this administration, which is ever-vigilant at protecting us from our irrational and helpless selves, also to prohibit young people from working as unpaid interns at not-for-profit outfits – such as political campaigns.

Indeed, Mr. Obama should not only apologize to the thousands of young, unpaid volunteers whom he exploited in 2008 for his own profit – namely, to win his election to the highest pulpit in the land – he should also give to each and every one of them back pay (with interest) for their efforts on his behalf.

The bottom line in this entire debate is that people should be free to work for free if they want to. End of story.  The argument that young people are too stupid to make the decision to work for free and are being exploited because they are afraid to call out evil would-be employers is just laughable! I’m assuming they are equally free to quit the job? The argument that only rich kids can afford to work for free is equally comical.

Again, increasing the wage of internships will not increase their availability and many people need to work for free to gain experience. If someone truly cannot afford to work for free, their path may be longer and more indirect or they may need to work two jobs (one paid in an unrelated field and one unpaid) in order to gain experience. The reality is, an unpaid internship is simply a formalized extension of the oldest business and networking advice, “Do people favors for free.” This puts you on their radar, shows you are a go-getter, and makes you far more likely to get a paid position when it becomes available.

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Subsidized Art vs. The Middle Class

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
Il pleut
Image by Julie70 via Flickr

I can’t make up stuff like this. From the Telegraph, “Children’s art club closed as ‘too middle class’ “,

The Paint Pots Arts Club, in Hackney, London, will have its funding withdrawn at the end of the month as council officials said their monitoring had found that it was not reaching families with the most difficult needs.

The club is funded by one of the Government’s flagship Sure Start centres which are aimed at supporting new parents and offer health services, childcare and early learning and employment advice.

Mrs Ritches [the director of Paint Pots Arts Club] said: “Middle class mothers struggle with work, sleep deprivation, and post natal depression just like any other mother. But the Learning Trust officials concluded that 68 per cent of all users were white. I told them just because they are white does not mean they are middle-class. But they said you could work out their properties’ value from their postcodes.”

A letter to Mrs Ritches from officials said: “Based on our monitoring information, the Arts Club is not reaching the families who have the most difficult needs. Accordingly I have to advise you that the contract for the Arts Club will end on March 31st.”

The article goes on to explain that instead of helping the needy via art programs, more direct assistance is going to be used. I am of the opinion that if subsidy is ever to be used, cash subsidy is usually the best idea if the goal is to help individuals maintain their livelihood in a way they see fit, since it allows recipients to put the cash to its most urgent need, which may or may not be art classes for their children. It seems the idea to start the art club in the first place was misguided. But I don’t think governments are in the habit of doing feasibility tests to assess market demand for a target demographic prior to the inception of their programs. I think they like the “build it and see what happens” approach, which often ends in waste and disappointment.

Perhaps a feasibility test would have shown lower income families cannot even allocate the time or resources to sending their children to free art classes, since it could be perceived as setting an expectation of continued education (resources used) at home or in the future when there is no guarantee funding for such programs will be maintained – as evidenced by this bizarre charade with The Paint Pots Arts Club.

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Arts and Econ Links of Interest

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
Graph of CO 2  (green), reconstructed temperat...
Image via Wikipedia
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Artists who Give Artists a Bad Name

Sunday, March 21st, 2010
pacman food bank display
Image by eyesplash Mikul via Flickr

We know art school grads are trained to have expensive taste, so why ask them to compromise when everyone else has to? Check out the nouveau hedonism for today’s poor epicure, from Salon’s Hipsters on Food Stamps,

In the John Waters-esque sector of northwest Baltimore — equal parts kitschy, sketchy, artsy and weird — Gerry Mak and Sarah Magida sauntered through a small ethnic market stocked with Japanese eggplant, mint chutney and fresh turmeric. After gathering ingredients for that evening’s dinner, they walked to the cash register and awaited their moments of truth…

Magida, a 30-year-old art school graduate, had been installing museum exhibits for a living until the recession caused arts funding — and her usual gigs — to dry up. She applied for food stamps last summer, and since then she’s used her $150 in monthly benefits for things like fresh produce, raw honey and fresh-squeezed juices from markets near her house in the neighborhood of Hampden, and soy meat alternatives and gourmet ice cream from a Whole Foods a few miles away.

“I’m eating better than I ever have before,” she told me. “Even with food stamps, it’s not like I’m living large, but it helps.”

Mak, 31, grew up in Westchester, graduated from the University of Chicago and toiled in publishing in New York during his 20s before moving to Baltimore last year with a meager part-time blogging job and prospects for little else. About half of his friends in Baltimore have been getting food stamps since the economy toppled, so he decided to give it a try; to his delight, he qualified for $200 a month.

“I’m sort of a foodie, and I’m not going to do the ‘living off ramen’ thing,” he said, fondly remembering a recent meal he’d prepared of roasted rabbit with butter, tarragon and sweet potatoes. “I used to think that you could only get processed food and government cheese on food stamps, but it’s great that you can get anything.”

What are these so-called artists learning in art school? How not to make an honest living and how to mooch off others? Apparently, I should not be so judgmental, and assume these highly-educated artists are entitled to this support because of their creative output.

“At first, I thought, ‘Why should I be on food stamps?’” said Magida, digging into her dinner. “Here I am, this educated person who went to art school, and there are a lot of people who need them more. But then I realized, I need them, too.”

I’m really quite appalled at her rationale. Even from a graduate just out of school, I might understand, since this is the worst economy in decades. But these people are just a few years older than I am, plenty of time post-graduation to realize they might need to diversify their potential streams of income. I’m also an educated person who went to music school. Once I realized that I, too, was unwilling to eat ramen to make ends meet, I did not seek ways for others to subsidize my chosen career path. I found additional work and education that allowed me to support myself and my family while maintaining a level of artistic output I am happy with.

Am I totally alone in thinking other (admittedly) able-bodied, educated artists should find honest work, even if not in their chosen field – and save the food stamps for those who really can’t afford to live?

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The Day Bureaucracy Stopped the Music

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010
Model of the Pantheon as originaly built
Image via Wikipedia

First off, I need to introduce everyone to a blog they should bookmark right away, The Collaborative Piano blog by acclaimed accompanist and faculty member at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada. He posts tons of interesting information, links, and great performances from YouTube. Just take a peek at his series 31 Days to Better Practicing which would no doubt be applicable to working artists in any field.

He recently posted this YouTube video of a Russian sextet and choir performing Vivaldi at the Pantheon in Rome. It is a nice performance until about 5 minutes in when a female employee of the Pantheon stops another movement from beginning and announces, “The Pantheon is about to close. Please move towards the exit. The concert is over, because today the Pantheon closes at six o’clock.”

According to The Guardian, trade union rules under strict enforcement were to blame for ending the concert early despite audience protests and urges for the performers to continue playing. The whole affair was caught on video and is uncomfortable to watch.

However, this should not come as a major shock to those familiar with how Italy runs their cultural institutions and businesses. While spending a summer studying and performing in the city of Lucca, I announced to the gelato shop next to the concert venue I would be performing in that they could expect a large influx of customers after the event. The proprietor thanked me for the information, and told me he would be sure to close early so he would not have to work too late. I was flabbergasted. Most business owners look forward to making some extra cash. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there is an opportunity cost to working for those who enjoy their leisure time more than most – but I was still surprised at this one.

Last year, when the Italian culture minister wished to improve the image and efficiency of Italian cultural sites, she brought on Mario Resca, who had previously introduced the McDonald’s franchise to Italy and could bring his private sector experience to the public sector. Arts administrators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Louvre protested and signed petitions against Mr. Resca’s appointment, fearing he would commodify the arts in Italy. By all means, stifling bureaucracy will do far more good.

I think there is a middle ground between McPompeii and attempting to improve audience enjoyment at events and cultural sites. As Mr. Resca noted,

As a client of the Italian cultural system I am frustrated…the museum attendants don’t smile, they are depressed.  Some of the museums are not physically clean.  There is no signage, there is no communication…  (Rocca, 2009)

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Arts Labor Markets: An Informal Case Study

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

I did not think my last post would generate such lively discussion – so I propose we refocus and delve deeper into one particular economic aspect of the conversation that I think is critical. While this informal case study I offer is by no means exhaustive, I hope it will be informative to readers interested in arts labor market economics. Having said that, it is rather long for a blog post, so I hope you will all bear with me or bookmark for later.

In discussing whether the proposed legislation of setting a maximum duration/minimum wage for arts internships makes economic sense (in that it achieves its intended effects), we should first review the effects of setting price floors and determine if, indeed, there is an economic benefit to imposing a maximum duration/minimum wage for internships.

According to the economic laws of supply and demand, setting a price floor for wages above the equilibrium wage, ceteris paribus, will do two things:

  1. Increase the demand from workers for the wage.
  2. Decrease the supply of the jobs offering the wage. (Hubbard and O’Brien, 2006)

Looking at each of these points individually, we can see that imposing legislation requiring arts organizations to pay interns a minimum wage after a certain period of time would likely result in more interns wanting those higher-paid jobs (point 1), as well as a decreased ability for organizations to offer the jobs due to the impact on their budgets (point 2). As a result, the increase of interns supplied will cause net higher unemployment in the arts, not less. However, it does not seem this is a point of concern for those in favor of the legislation so we will not address it here. Instead, I suggest we focus on the net effect on the poor, since that is what seems to be a main point of contention.

Now, it is likely that point 1 will not be considered significant or negative by those supporting the legislation – as they may consider an increase in potential interns a benefit (perhaps due to the externality of arts appreciation, etc). However, a closer look at the effect can be seen as detrimental in particular to the poor (who the legislation is ostensibly attempting to help obtain gainful employment), due to the fact that flooding the market with additional supply of workers will result in even stiffer competition, with those winning the even better paid positions being those who already have more experience (who we seem to agree are more likely to be those already better off or able to afford the unpaid internships).

As we’ve already agreed thus far, poorer interns are unlikely to have such experience, and as a result they are even less likely to win the paid internships than when they were unpaid. This is because an organization offering work for free is likely to be more discriminating about their intern choice once the same position is  offered for pay and can have a positive or negative effect (however small) on their bottom line. Furthermore, we are not talking about hiring relatively unskilled labor where the difference in prior experience is largely irrelevant, such as janitorial services or working in a fast food restaurant.  We are talking about serving the needs of arts organizations, which would seek to hire interns with basic proficiency in computer skills, verbal and written communication, and some prior education in the arts for a paid position.

As already noted in the comments, volunteers are more likely to fill unskilled positions like ushering, stuffing envelopes, or posting signage for events, for example. There is no reason to believe organizations offering new paid positions are going to seek less qualified interns to fill them. So, the effect of the legislation will be to price poorer/inexperienced potential interns out of the market altogether, effectively eliminating the bottom rung of the ladder as it were, leaving them with less opportunity to advance their arts careers, not more. Therefore, the effects of the legislation will actually harm those it is purporting to help and simply help more experienced interns get better jobs – which is not in and of itself negative on an absolute basis – but it is certainly not achieving the intended effects of the legislation.

Point 2 is likely to be explained away as it was in an earlier comment as to have a negligible change on the finances of a larger arts organization. This may be true, but it may also not be true – we cannot know without additional information and review of the finances of arts organizations, which are often far more sensitive to changes in allocation of capital due to the volatile nature of their business, so it would stand to reason that imposing additional financial burdens (however small) would affect them on a more than negligible basis*. Furthermore, the point is not only to address the finances of larger arts organizations as they are not the only ones affected by the legislation, but all arts organizations that offer internships, which no doubt span small to large in size of operations.

However, even if we accept a high likelihood of larger organizations being able to afford paid interns (and even if we neglect to perform financial feasibility studies to determine the marginal revenue product of labor – which is clearly more important when paying employees than when letting them work for free), the replacement rate of paid jobs for the previously unpaid jobs is unlikely to be 100%, otherwise there would be no need for legislation and interns would already be paid (that is, if we accept the premise an equilibrium wage rate can and should be found). So, otherwise, under force of legislation would the paid job replacement rate be 90%, 50%, or 10%? Again, we cannot know without additional information.

But even if we accept a generous 90% rate of ability to pay interns providing the same amount and duration of internships (i.e. opportunity) by larger organizations after legislation is imposed, we can then anticipate that rate will decrease in some proportion (more or less) in relation to the decrease in size of an organization’s operations and their particular financial situation. We can probably also agree smaller organization’s finances are likely to be even more volatile than large ones, have less expendable income, and rely more heavily on both volunteers and unpaid interns. As a result, this legislation is likely to more than proportionately negatively affect the operations of smaller arts organizations because it is well-known that small arts organizations struggle more than their larger counterparts to win both private and public dollars.  The likely result of forcing them to pay their interns will be less ability to offer positions than their larger counterparts and may require downsizing their operations and offerings, again due to their heavier reliance on volunteers and interns.

It can be seen that the result of the legislation in economic terms is a net loss of opportunity offered by all arts organizations and made available to all arts interns, affecting smaller organizations and poorer interns more than larger organizations and well-off interns**. While economics cannot determine with finality which decisions should be made, it allows the conversation to then inform the philosophical arguments of whether or not more or less opportunity in the arts is beneficial and whether offering more or less opportunity to the poor is good or bad. Clearly those in support of the legislation are not concerned with the net loss of opportunity and are misguided in thinking the poor would be the primary beneficiaries of what positive results (possibly more paid positions) are obtained.

Another correct point mentioned above is that this type of legislation is administratively and logistically laborious to police and punish, if not near impossible. This is another point against it, since the addition of government employees needed to monitor the exploitative behavior will probably not be made due to low priority (since the type of so-called exploitation is hardly as serious as other criminal activity that is far more prevalent and detrimental than the supposed horrors of lengthy unpaid internships in the arts) or monitoring will be unsuccessful due to the ease of participants finding loopholes.

So in reality, this may be glamour legislation that can do little to stop the unwanted and promote the intended behaviors, but may win legislators some votes come election time because it sounds like a nice thing to do according to those who have imperfect information regarding economics. I can only hope what is more likely is that its net effect on actual finances/interns in practice is very small. I imagine there are/will be more “volunteer” opportunities in the arts than “internships” and that hopefully they look just as good on these poor struggling student’s resumes.

* A highly-contested study, Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (Card and Krueger, 1995) on price floors in labor markets have offered some evidence that the net effect of price floors in the fast food industry has negligible effects in terms of decreasing the supply of labor (and by extension wages set at a minimum) and output of businesses in that industry. However, these studies are not the final word on price floors, and even if they were, they cannot provide us significant insight into the arts industry’s labor market – which is vastly different than the fast food industry whose price elasticity of demand (for labor) is relatively inelastic (meaning when the price/cost of labor increases, there will be little impact on amount supplied to workers), whereas the price elasticity of demand in arts markets is arguably more elastic (meaning when the price/cost of labor increases, there would be more impact). This analysis is only theoretical at this point, and would require further study to determine with finality.

** Which proves my original quick analysis of the legislation was faulty! Since the title of the original post was “Let’s Level the Playing Field by Making Everyone Worse Off” and I have determined that not everyone would be worse off, only the poor would be worse off, I think this has been a valuable exercise.

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Detroit Gets It Wrong with Arts Audiences

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Living in Detroit, this story about a police raid at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit was not surprising, but one more in a long list of problems with the metro area I live in. Detroit was recently been named one of Forbes America’s Most Miserable Cities for at least the third year in a row (though we’re no longer No. 1) and it’s for reasons such as this:

Jason Leverette-Saunders said he thought he was being robbed when masked gunmen crashed a party at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit at about 2 a.m. May 31, 2008.

But the intruders were Detroit cops who stormed the gallery and ticketed more than 100 mostly young and suburban college students for loitering, seizing their vehicles, because they were attending a private, after-hours party where alcoholic beverages were served. Attendees each had to pay $900, plus towing and storage fees, to get their cars back, even though their loitering tickets later were dismissed.

I’m not familiar with the details of the evening, but at first glance, punishing a bunch of college-aged contemporary art gallery-goers seems like an outlandish activity for Detroit police, compared to other legitimate crimes that were likely being committed in Detroit that night.

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Communism, Capitalism, and The (other) Wagner Effect

Thursday, September 17th, 2009
Photo of "Crossroads" before its destruction.

Photo of "Crossroads" before its destruction.

Like most things I see on the internet, I have no recollection how I came across this Glenn Beck clip on the art at Rockefeller Center, but I was intrigued to hear what he had to say because of the topic and the notoriety surrounding him. It appears he is using Rockefeller Center as a high profile example for the argument that socialist propaganda surrounds us and affects us though we do not notice it. He claims even presumed capitalists like John D. Rockefeller are part of a large-scale movement supporting oppressive messages from Communist leaders via Communist artists by weaving them into the fabric of American life, and that their influence is pervasive and dangerous. Even if this sounds incredibly far-fetched, I believe the claim is worth exploring, as it would give support to the idea that art, and artists, can influence us deeply and profoundly, even without our knowing it.

As a professional performing artist, I often wonder what is it that makes the audience pay attention or not, and when they leave, what impact has my singing had on them, if any? Keeping all this in mind, I’d like readers to consider some facts about the art at Rockefeller Center, its creators, and its content.

The Art of Rockefeller Center

According to Wikipedia (which seems to have a well-cited article on this topic),

[Rockefeller Center] was the largest private building project ever undertaken in modern times.[7] Construction of the 14 buildings in the Art Deco style (without the original opera house proposal) began on May 17, 1930 and was completed on November 1, 1939 when he [Rockefeller?] drove in the final (silver) rivet into 10 Rockefeller Plaza.

Principal builder, and “managing agent”, for the massive project was John R. Todd and principal architect was Raymond Hood, working with and leading three architectural firms, on a team that included a young Wallace Harrison, later to become the family’s principal architect and adviser to Nelson Rockefeller.

This synopsis indicates that Rockefeller, despite being the raison d’etre and source of funding for this project, was not its main conceptual architect. Any accusation of Rockefeller’s supposed desire to spread socialism via subliminal art messages rings hollow. What is more likely is that Rockefeller and his associates wanted significant art contributions by famous artists of the time to add to the prominence of the already-impressive undertaking.

One of the artists mentioned by Beck who had been commissioned for Rockefeller Center was Diego Rivera, a long-time beneficiary of generous funding from Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s wife. He was to paint a mural for the lobby of the then RCA, now NBC building.

Diego Rivera's signature with hammer and sickle

Diego Rivera's signature with hammer and sickle.

The fact that Rivera was a prominent supporter Communism, as a member of the Mexican Communist Party,  and intellectual and artistic supporter of The Soviet Revolution is well-documented. (The Agitator, left.) However, whether or not Rockefeller or his associates knew or cared about Rivera’s involvement appears to be debatable.

In either case, once Rivera’s controversial depiction of Man at the Crossroads showing an iconic male figure led by Lenin and other Soviet leaders away from American Capitalism toward the light and triumph of Soviet Russia was revealed, it was promptly destroyed by Rockefeller. Clearly he was not keen on explicit exaltation of the Communist state and marginalizing his own image. (A replica called Man, Controller of the Universe is located in Mexico.)

So, what of the remaining supposedly Communist art at Rockefeller Center mentioned by Beck? In my brief research on the topic, it seems the pieces are only a small part of the impressive Art Deco oeuvre that is Rockefeller Center. The website for the Center itself contains a lovely section on all the works of art displayed there, explaining,

John D. Rockefeller Jr’s resolution to make Rockefeller Center contemporary and innovative can be felt with every artwork and attraction. Take a look through the Gallery and get to know a remarkable collection of treasures, themed “New Frontiers”, signifying man’s development in spirit, science, industry and more.

I can only conclude that any Communist influence in the other works of art was too subtle for Rockefeller to detect, or he simply did not care to destroy every piece created for his laborious project which may have had the slightest taint of socialism. But as a nod to those in agreement with Beck, if the art is Communist in nature, we are still left with the issue of how it is influencing us, if at all.

Art is never dangerous, unless it tells the truth

The movie, Cradle Will Rock, about the Federal Art Projects of the 1930′s depicts the controversies in the arts world at the time, including the Rivera-Rockefeller fight over the Man at the Crossroads. I must point out that as a private donor, Rockefeller had final say in what kind of art he commissioned, and there can be no further commentary upon his “rights” to destroy Rivera’s art. He had every right to do so, as the art was effectively his own private property.

However, the film attempted to portray the tenuous relationships between artists, donors, and the public during the Great Depression when art was not considered a necessity. Federally-funded art laborers supported by the famous Works Progress Administration (WPA), felt they were being silenced not because of funding shortfalls, but because oppressive government bureaucrats and capitalists were trying to destroy their message.

According to Wikipedia,

The film [provides] a picture of life in the 1930s where some people wait in endless unemployment lines attempting to get work, while others enjoy their wealth engaging in parties and purchasing expensive works of art. As the musical nears production, the WPA cuts the budget for the [Federal Theater Project] FTP, and puts a halt to all new productions. This announcement comes following the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ questioning of many of those involved in the FTP, and the musical [Cradle Will Rock] itself due to its leftist themes around labor and union organizing.

Despite being canceled, the director, Orson Welles (Angus Macfadyen) and producer, John Houseman (Cary Elwes), lead the cast to another theater that they were able to secure at the last minute. The cast is forbidden to perform by their union, so Blitzstein takes the stage alone at an upright piano to perform the show himself, only to be joined by many of the cast members who deliver their lines from the audience. Robbins juxtaposes this final triumphant moment of the theater with images of the destruction of a mural commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) because the artist, Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades), refused to remove the image of Lenin’s face from the piece.

The movie’s tagline, “Art is never dangerous, unless it tells the truth” can be taken as a trite and treacly nod to the novelty of the theatre, or it can be taken as something far more powerful. Did the art and performances of the 1930′s with a purportedly (little-c) communist message influence future generations? Did the art “tell the truth” and did the government and others in power sense its “danger” in presenting it to the public? It appears Tim Robbins and Glenn Beck, though on different sides of the argument, feel similarly about the power of art to convey, deeply and purposefully, the intentions of the artists who bring the messages to the public. Again, from Wikipedia,

In tying together stories of labor issues and steel strikes, censorship in painting and theater, and the disparities of wealth and power, [Director Tim] Robbins is able to paint a picture of the 1930s that goes beyond simply recounting past events and questions the boundaries between art, power and politics.

What do my readers think about this? What is the impact of art? Of Communist art? What, if any, lasting impact does the art of the 1930′s have on us today?

The (other) Wagner Effect

Could it be art can stand on its own, without the taint of its creator? This is what we could coin, The Wagner Effect (distinct from the Wagner effect in entomology, but of the composer, Richard Wagner): the phenomenon where art is enjoyed purely for its aesthetic value, not for any additional meaning imbued by its creator. What do I mean? Wagner is famously regarded as an anti-semite. Yet, his music is still widely performed, even by Jewish artists, though it is boycotted by many others. Why is this? Can art created by despicable people still hold aesthetic value important for a society to experience? Are the dividing lines between aesthetic value and intended value blurred or distinct?

We could perhaps conclude that those who listen to and appreciate Wagner’s music, do not do so because of his depraved personal life, but in spite of it. This theory could apply to Communist artists like Rivera, as his murals are considered some of the greatest works of contemporary art, in spite of his controversial messages. Of course there may be those who appreciate the art because of the message. I am not the final arbiter here, but am interested in these questions.

It would appear society is willing to look past the personal lives of artists, and judge their creations for purely aesthetic value. But should they?

Legacy of Creative Protest

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Photo by ktylerconkToday the internet is a-buzz about the display of civil disobedience from Representative Joe Wilson during President Obama’s speech. Many people think it was uncivil disobedience. While I will admit rules of protocol are on their side, the history of Presidential speeches is not exactly awash with civility!

However, more interestingly, I today discovered the House of Representatives has rules of decorum which expressly forbid exclaiming that the President is a liar. Who knew? I suppose there are logical reasons for this, considering if such exclamations were permitted, every speech would likely be presented against a cacophony of insults.

But I think Wilson’s gaffe was one of bad timing, not necessarily bad taste. Surely he thought others would join in, and if they had, his individual words would have been incomprehensible, much like in this clip from 2005.

I love moments like this in a democracy. They make me hungry for more information, history, and thoughts from great thinkers and leaders of the past. I came across this incredible quote, and am inspired to revisit Thoreau today,

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. - Martin Luther King, JrAutobiography

Writers, artists, and musicians have long contributed to the “legacy of creative protest” by bringing forth works that carry messages of dissent against those abusing power. I find this tradition to be a fascinating mix of active and passive protest. Active, because creating and disseminating such messages is dynamic, requiring energy, thought, and passion. Passive, because such works are often voluntarily viewed and shared amongst like-minded groups of people hoping to spread their influence via peaceful, enlightened means.

The article Rebel yells: A protest music mixtape discusses this idea, and provides a comprehensive view of relatively contemporary songs of dissent dating from the Bush administration and earlier,

A lengthy list of musicians has bashed Bush and his policies. The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines ripped him from a London concert stage in 2003. Last summer, Bruce Springsteen penned a New York Times op-ed that, without naming the president, all but demanded his defeat. Springsteen then joined the Chicks, R.E.M., James Taylor and assorted left-leaning performers on a “Vote For Change” concert tour. And a week before last November’s U.S. election, Eminem released an anti-Bush video for his song Mosh; it showed a horde of disaffected youth storming the White House. Jagger denied a direct Bush connection soon after the story appeared online, but said, “[Sweet Neo Con] is certainly very critical of certain policies of the administration, but so what! Lots of people are critical.”

Protest music has existed since the first time a caveman got short-changed on mammoth soup by the campfire. For millennia since, people have used the power of song to express their disagreement with political ideas, slavery, militarism, economic oppression and myriad social concerns.

The entire article is a fantastic compilation, and I’m thinking of downloading all these songs to my iTunes as background music to my reading of Thoreau today.

Obaman Demagoguerey

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

It is evident President Obama thinks the general population is too ill-informed to know the difference between a company’s headquarters versus where they are registered. It is business school 101 to know that one’s state or country of incorporation can have absolutely nothing to do with where one’s business operations are located. 

It is minor details like this that people who do not have the benefit of any type of business training take at face value and think, “I knew those evil companies were up to no good!” They will not look further because they believe our President would not tell blatant lies on television to make a case for his tax policies.

Please watch this video and weigh in with your thoughts.

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