State of the Arts – the culture of economics

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Its the economy people!

It is curious to me that the number one best selling book in the world at the moment is Thomas Picketty’s Capitalism in the 21st Century. It’s 700 pages long and densely written without any nod to populism. I haven’t read it and I won’t, I’m not that interested in economics and anyway I believe it is culture not the economy that changes us. Perhaps they are interwoven, maybe, but it doesn’t matter because I only have time for so many things… so I will have to trust that this Picketty book is akin to the Communist Manifesto as in, it’s impact could be felt for centuries.

I believe like I did about Karl Marx that these kinds of people who are able to coalesce our age through research and historic precedent, and create a picture of how we spend our money do a great service. Money is a kind of truth because how you spend it says a lot about who you are.

However the culture of spending can change; look at smoking. We all used to smoke right? Well, a lot of us did. But we don’t now for many reasons, many of them cultural. Money that used to be spent there has gone elsewhere, we seem to have outsourced that vice too, the biggest purchasers of tobacco products are in Asia.

Think about the pressure now to buy the right kinds of product. I had an hour long debate with my partner’s brother in law about eating shrimp. After watching a VICE episode about how most of it is farmed by slaves in India I thought, well, that’s it for me and shrimp. He however felt that the story was an exaggeration and that shrimp is a great treat for a family and that Red Lobster is great and affordable for families. I didn’t want to mention to him how many families I know that would never cross the threshold of a Red Lobster but whatever.

NCM invite 2014
When we get back to Yorkshire my partner’s work will be here, the National Coal Mining Museum. It’s a place where art/culture and the economy blend seamlessly.

“You have more education and a higher level of human skills today. But you also have a higher level of real estate, equipment, patents, robots and other non-human assets. So that in the long run, you know I’m not saying that robots will dominate humans but I’m just saying that the balance between human capital and non-human capital has no reason to move in the direction of human labor.” Thomas Picketty, The Real News Network

One of Picketty’s points is that we are under some illusions about how education and hard work relates to wealth. And, yes, this guy apparently talks about robots. He also says technology will not save us. Sorry nerds. How all this affects the life of an artist may seem rather obtuse but if you consider that art is one of the few commodities on Earth that cannot be relied on and that people still want it and want to make it – you’re looking at an entire economic sector that works in the irrational. Ain’t that glorious? It is what I love about what I do, it is kind of ridiculous.

I feel sorry for people who would find this kind of thinking threatening or inappropriate. I felt free the minute I realized that life holds no formula and that regardless of convention and decorum there is no reason for anything to exist at all and perhaps it’s all pointless. To me this is not a depressing topic. Not at all. In fact quite the opposite. I think life is completely ridiculous. I take some of it seriously of course. I wasn’t laughing when my mother died suddenly and my sister and I found her. That wasn’t funny at all. But it has given me the strength to realize that being an artist is as crazy as going to the moon, or building a pyramid or running for political office. People who have been deeply hurt know exactly what I mean.

The spending of money is perhaps the only way to gauge how we asses ourselves. In this gilded age we live in now with a tiny portion of the populace owning most of the wealth we will need to rely on the fact that culture does in fact change us. Through our daily routines of where we go, what we purchase and how we live, we can turn the world around by engaging in culture. Artists and those who interpret the world are more important now than ever which I think is wonderfully crazy.

State of the Arts will return at some point from Yorkshire in June!

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