An Artistic Contradiction

All art is a product of society at a certain stage in historic development: all emotions of, and misdeeds against artists, individual or systemic, are processed through expression and put forward for the masses to consume.

Idealists Notice Problems

Idealist(-socialists) and individualists who think about art and culture, such as free software advocates, expresses two important problems in the context of cultural production under a capitalistic order--but make several crucial errors in their reasoning. Let's first describe the problem as they see it, and some of the proposed solutions:


Under capitalism, art is commodified. This means that art exists as an industry, as a product which is valorized either through direct sales (streaming, vinyl) or indirectly (through marketing, sponsoring, etc). They then point out how this leads to art and culture being locked away from the masses, harder to access and share--it denies a fundamental right and perverts culture. All of this is true, and a very noble thing to point out, however the problem is that they don't go further in their reasoning, i.e. they view it as a set of individual problems instead of as a systemic one. And even in their idealistic visions, they fail to see contradictions which I will later explain.


Another obvious problem with art is that it gets perverted by capitalism. It no longer exists as an authentic expression of experience, but as an identity product to be bought and sold (this is not binary nor static). Most 'art forms' no longer even produce 'art' but mere entertainment or pieces of identity.

Additionally, idealists and individualists, because of their inherent obsession with moralizing, conflate perversion and authenticity: Young Thug and Nicky Minaj are the opposite of what I'm describing, they are prime examples of non-perverted art.

If only there was no need for profit, this wouldn't happen, so say the idealists!

Proposed Solution

Since artists have to subsist, and since profit perverts, Stallman for example proposes they be paid according to some logarithmic function of popularity. Let's not focus on the taste aspect of this, but on the mere fact that he has an idealistic vision which could technically work: artists don't starve, art is available to everyone, and it is not perverted.

Sounds perfect, doesn't it?


When idealists address the problematics of art production in today's society, they ignore two important problems:

  1. Art is generated by and for the system which abuses the artist in a material manner in the first place, no matter how subversive or anti-social, it is always a logical consequent of the superstructure of the capitalist base of production.

  2. We cannot know what art will look like in an 'ideal system', we cannot even know if it would exist as a concept (my intuition is that art would be diffused under communism, for example).

We can always say that art and culture in general should be available to all, but that in itself is contradictory: if art is freely available, and artists are sustained without the need for their art to be commoditized, we have already far surpassed the current capitalist stage of society.

Ethics of Art Consumption

So should we crowdfund art? Should we use iTunes? Should we pirate everything? No, we shouldn't really do anything other than what is in our interests regarding art consumption as non-artists. If it pleases you to pay artists directly through bandcamp, great, if you then go on and share that music with everyone, who cares. Anything else is often political opportunism. Leave it to the system to crush them and munch them, that is, after all, in their own interests.