Thursday, August 31, 2006

The fur flyeth

Gracious. It would seem that the incendiary controversy of declaring that 'Love is All There Is' has been soundly trumped by the vastly more incendiary controversy of Begging for Bucks. It would also seem that, wide-ranging as Pretty Lady's worldly experience seems to be, she still remains infinitely shockable.

First, let us get one thing straight. The definition of 'begging' is 'pleading for an unearned handout out of desperation, genuine or feigned.' You will never, never, never catch Pretty Lady begging for anything, nor will you catch anyone in her elite and hand-selected social circle doing so. We may all have Cash Flow problems, at times; we may suffer from recessions, natural disasters, or overly optimistic business projections. But we never beg. We state the truth of our financial circumstances without self-pity or shame, and then let the matter drop.

Secondly--when did Money become so tangled up with Morality? Is it our Puritan heritage? Is it Capitalism? Is it Anti-Communism? Is it a Ruling Class Plot? Or does it merely stem from buried playground experiences, regarding seeming trivialities like designer jeans, which so scarred our youthful psyches that the mere hint of a Financial Issue causes the vast majority of us to go all squirrelly and defensive?

The fact is, people, that money is not moral. It just is. It is energy, if you would like a useful metaphor. The only proof of its existence is its movement; it is not a physical thing at all. It is merely an idea.

Like all ideas, it can only be increased by being shared. A library under lock and key does nobody any good; neither does a physical lump of metal sitting in a physical vault. The idea of the lump of metal, however, causes real estate to be developed, research to be undertaken, and bombs to be detonated, depending upon how this idea is channelled.

Thus, as individuals and as societies, we channel our financial ideas according to our personal and cultural priorities. The 'morality' tag is simply a covert justification of a set of priorities which, if we were directly confronted with such, we might repudiate in shame and loathing.

For example. Although Pretty Lady has several occupations, her most financially remunerative one happens to be in the healing arts. In early 2002, she was making plans to move to New York City. At a party in rural Texas, she happened to mention these plans, with the addendum, "I think New York can use some healing, right about now."

An airline pilot retorted, "You would profit from that?"

As Pretty Lady's sister pointed out, the sane and appropriate response to this question is a calm and even-tempered 'yes.' It is not seemly to go into a diatribe about airline pilots who would never consider undertaking to steer a plane to Australia for free; it is gauche to paint a graphic picture of a healer who camps out in Central Park and goes through garbage cans to feed herself, all because it is unseemly and wrong to accept payment for helping people. Acerbic comments such as 'Evidently, it's only okay to profit from activities that harm people, or at the very least have an ethically debatable result,' would be out of line, particularly at her college friend's uncle's 60th birthday party. So Pretty Lady did not say any of these things. She merely replied, "It's about survival," and the gentleman thoughtfully conceded her point.

Pretty Lady points this out because she has often observed that, both as individuals and as a society, we think we are prioritizing certain things, whereas if you look at our collective checkbooks, they tell quite a different story. There have been many times in her life when she was far more confident of her ability to raise $40K of venture capital for a fundamentally foolish but glamorous-sounding enterprise, than of her ability to raise $2K for next month's living expenses. This is because, in our culture, we all carry a mental distinction between the notions of 'handout' and 'investment,' without seeing that this distinction is illusory and meaningless.

The fact is, when one channels one's money in a certain direction, one is investing energy in widening that channel; in increasing this particular idea in the world at large. The return flows back accordingly. Investment in real-estate development produces suburban sprawl. Investment in fear, rage and aggression produces bomb detonations. Investment in four hours of television-watching per capita, per evening, produces--well, Pretty Lady doesn't know what it produces, because she hasn't made that particular investment, but from hearsay she notes that it's a sorry state of affairs.

One can get a notion of the things that are low on our collective priority lists merely by observing whom we choose to humiliate, by terming our investment in their survival a 'handout,' and subjecting these unfortunates to the Desperation Quotient in their applications for funding. Pretty Lady can attest, through grim personal experience, that one of the primary qualification requirements for obtaining one of the very few fine arts grants available in this country is a taxable income of at least $10K below the poverty line, and no access to healthcare. It greatly improves an artist's chances of obtaining a grant if he or she is desperately ill as well; even so, the odds against receiving one are stiff.

And don't even get Pretty Lady started on how we treat our children.

Equally damaging, in Pretty Lady's view, is our knee-jerk contempt for, and suspicion of, arts patrons. There is some pervasive cultural feeling that these people are 'taking advantage' by happening to recognize and support a creative genius while this genius is still alive, instead of waiting until the person is safely famous and dead, and unfairly cashing in accordingly. Pretty Lady once had the inestimable good fortune to know a lovely lady artist who died, tragically, quite young. People still occasionally email her, wanting to know if she has any Margaret K.s for sale. Another friend of Margaret's groused, after the funeral, "It's all the collectors who are making money, now."

In Pretty Lady's view, the individuals with the sense and perspicacity to fund Margaret K.'s work while she was still alive to use the money are the good guys in this scenario. They may profit all they like; however, most of them are hanging on to the art because they actually like it.

Similarly, Pretty Lady has noted a pervasive social unwillingness to invest in even such a small thing as a musical disc, until the musician in question has been co-opted by an enormous industry, marketed exhaustively, molded and sucked dry by constant radio play. It as if most people are physically unable to hear a thing until it has undergone this process. They turn off their minds and their souls, and allow themselves to be spoon-fed by the very media complex that they purport to despise.

So. All this is a long-winded explanation of why Pretty Lady attempts to put her money where her soul is, and why she offers each and every one of you the opportunity to do the same. When Pretty Lady attends the live concert of an obscure musician and loves the music, she buys a CD with the last ten dollars in her bag. When she finds a piece of stellar artwork in her price range, she buys it; if she can't afford it, she toots it online and in conversation. And occasionally she even tips a blogger, or more frequently (due to cash flow issues) provides a free healing session, or some moral support. At her end of the financial scale, these things mean a lot.

Because art doesn't happen for free. Talent is one thing; discipline is quite another. The opportunity cost of artistic discipline is frequently a full-time paycheck. By shaming an artist for declaring that his or her work is worth something, we are starving our own creative selves.


Bob said...

Um... well, ok....

I'm convinced.

I'm going to put up a "feed the kitty" button on my blog.

Your cut will be 10 precent.

Maybe 5 percent.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the ever popular starving artist effect a modern invention?

Was Mozart an artist?

From what I've read he was well paid but he spent like a drunken sailor in a Thai whorehouse.

It seems that when artists went from patronage to free-lance they were worse off.

Art is so subjective that it is hard to create a fan base as a band could do. You can't get people to pay to see you create, and your fans can't haul your art around in the back of a wagon for admiration.

My rule of thumb about art; If it looks like something I could do, it isn't art.


Anonymous said...

JohnR, a very perceptive and knowledgeable point about Mozart. You're quite right, his income was upper middle class by contemporary standards, but (as you said) he spent it like a drunken sailor in a Thai whorehouse. Genius though he was, he was clueless when it came to handling finances.

I don't think the quality of music declined due to the end of the aristocratic patronage system. (Although it really never died out entirely - take the case of Nadezhda von Meck and Tchaikovsky, for example.) The cultural changes wrought by liberalism in the 20th century, particularly upon artists themselves and upon the wealthy who ultimately fund them, are more to blame as I see it. Just think of the arts that could be funded by the money Warren Buffet just gave to the Gates Foundation - whose motto ought to be "Rearranging tomorrow's deck chairs - TODAY!" The only thing that money will end up funding are the Cayman Islands bank accounts of African kleptocrats.

PL, your comment about Picasso over at Vox's is quite on the mark. He had the skill and native talent to be a great artist, but because he was - at the end of the day, a nihilist - his art is utterly hollow at the core. The lights are on, and nobody's home - so to speak.

Anonymous said...

I got my undergraduate degree in Fine Arts. Not because I hoped or intended to make a living at art. Rather, I was there on scholarship(s) (academice and voice) and allowed (because it was the 70's and academia was experimenting) to choose my own curriculum. That meant that an 18 year old was in charge. So she (I) took a ton of philosophy classes, a smattering of English, History, Theology and filled most of my days in the Art Department (doing what I love at hours I could stand). When it came time to graduate I was either a Fine Arts Major or Philosophy major, toss the coin. I give this background so you understand I love the Arts and Artisitic folk.

In addition, I admire and applaud anyone with the hutzpah and gumption to try to make a living off their art. They have more drive and/or desire to create then I probably did/do. According to my teachers and friends, I do not like the talent, I just didn't have the fire necessary. So, eventually, I got that law degree that allows me eat food and buy homes. I don't make as much as many lawyers b/c I'm in the public (government) sector doing work that doesn't keep me from sleeping at nights. But I do keep a hand in the arts by doing some painting and theater (musical theater) when I can.

That all said - I think that society is entitled to support or ignore the arts all it wants. I have heard it said that you can tell how civilized a society is by how it treats the arts and artists. I've also heard it said that you can tell how civilized a society is by how it treats the weakest among them. I would like to think the two aren't related ideas, but they may be.

I have long admired Renoir, in part b/c of his pragmatic approach to his art. He painted walls, screens and other household items to earn a living, all the way developing his new Impressionistic style of painting. He waited to get married until he could "afford" the family. He did what it took, without apology, to keep body and soul together and did not act as if being an artist somehow made him a finer person then say a baker or butcher.

Money indeed is how a capatilistic society rewards those it wants to encourage. [Communistic or socialist societies may not use coins, but they have similar ways of providing power/perks to those of whom it most approves]. Those who make the most money are often those who are giving the rest of society what they most want. Which is one of the reasons I worry about our country. Teachers and artists are usually making far less money then professional athletes, plumbers and lawyers. What does that kind of situation say about what we, as a whole, value most in our society?

Anonymous said...

What the crap is so crass about a virtual tip jar? Next time you're in a bar, explain clearly to the bartender that you're not going to tip them because you don't consider what they do an art, and besides, they get a paycheck. Do it. I dare you.

If anyone deserves a little green karma, PL, it is most certainly you. If I weren't rolling dimes for diapers this week, I would gladly contribute. I get more entertainment and education from your little corner of blogdom than from most publications I've held subscriptions to, dammit.

Anonymous said...

"if she can't afford it, she toots it online and in conversation."


Pretty Lady said...

Other people may 'tout.' I toot. Touting is crass, banal, and tiresome. Tooting is sprightly and trumpet-like. Toot, toot. Honk.

Anonymous said...

Hello Pretty Lady,

I just put in a 16 hour day, so I don't know if I can be particularly eloquent... But I just wanted to make a couple of comments.

Mitzibel noted that she gets more from your blog than various periodicals to which she’s subscribed, and I concur. However, there is something very different about the blog format, due to the interaction.

Some blogs are purely for entertainment. After the recent exchanges here, I went and read Bane's blog, and I found it entertaining. I think Morgan is right that he could professionalize his skill, and perhaps he feels that that is what he's doing already. I've got no quarrel with that, but I would not spend much time in that forum commenting... Bane Rants is a broadcast blog, where as Pretty Lady is much more personal and engaging...

Now, I am sure that some would consider me to be very naïve, but I think it is possible to build friendship within the context of a blog like this one. And while you and I (and others that frequent this place) may not have met in person, I believe that I have a pretty good idea of your character from reading and interacting with you... I certainly feel that I know your mind better than those of many acquaintances that I see daily, and I care more about what happens to you than the people that I nod to as I pass their office on the way to mine.

The reason I bring it up is that I feel that money interferes with friendship on a basic level. I've no problem loaning a friend some cash. And I usually forget if I do, and I don’t stress about it (unless I sense a pattern developing). Money is just some numbers anyway, and time is much more precious than the rate at which any of us are compensated.

But on the other hand, money often implies expectations, and that can be uncomfortable in the context of friendship, especially when there is a solicitation (no matter how casual). I own a small business, and I consider many of my clients and vendors to be friends too, so I'm not saying the topic is without nuance. But, to just blurt it out, I feel that my interactions with you would be markedly different if I gave you money for the interaction.

I think maybe I'm too tired to ferret out the point I'm trying to make. Believe me when I say that I have no problem with a tip jar, and I do not think it is crass or vulgar. I just think it is different, and that difference is unavoidable.

I hope your Labor Day weekend is less laborious than mine. Cheers.


Anonymous said...

Also, what's the wife going to think if she see's credit card charges to "Pretty Lady"?

Pretty Lady said...

Luke, I understand exactly what you're trying to say, here. Without contradicting your points, let me just say:

1) Although you definitely know me better than many of your casual acquaintances, there is still an infinite amount of information you don't know, perhaps on an order of magnitude. Trust me on this. My creative gift extends automatically to self-revelation; this is just how it works. It works differently for other people. But would you tip David Sedaris, if he had a blog?

2) I am self-employed, too. In addition, I am self-employed in a field where I am the automatic recipient of a great deal of personal information from clients. I know, perhaps better than anyone, the difference between self-revelation and intimate friendship. Many of my friends patronize my business, but everyone is clear about where the boundaries are.

3) There is such a thing as anonymity.

4) I will have you know that Pretty Lady's raciest post has been linked by a popular evangelical Christian women's blog. I say this, not to brag, but merely to bolster my statement that if you cannot satisfactorily explain Pretty Lady to your wife, your marriage is in a greater state of peril than any I could possibly create.

5) My creation of a tip jar was primarily for internal affirmational reasons, anyway. Other people's issues with it are their issues.


Anonymous said...

Taking a break before the final assault…

1) There is an infinite amount of information that I don't know about myself. And hell no, I wouldn't tip Sedaris. He doesn't need it, and I'm not really a fan.

2) Your friends have an expectation when they give you money for service. And I guess I have expectations for, which keep bringing me back… but I guess I hadn’t thought of it as a service that you provide. More like a radiance that you shine.

3) is as obvious as the glasses on my face, which I guess is why I missed it. I suppose I’ll make an anonymous donation at the time that you most need it. It won’t be me though, so don't think about it.

4) Just kidding. Nicole thinks you’re swell anyway, but she finds blogs unappealing compared to more deliberate fiction.

5) Ah yes. But you blogged about it so you get to hear our opinions nonetheless. ;)

Anonymous said...

BTW... when is the rent due?

Pretty Lady said...

More like a radiance that you shine.

That is exactly how I think of it myself, my dear; moreover it is one that is shining through me, which my ego-self is not responsible for.

But it is not yet bright enough to obscure the fact that my ego-self's rent keeps coming due, on the first of every...single...month. Pesky of it.

The Aardvark said...

A cogent quote from the Son of God, mayhap?

"The laborer is worthy of his hire."

Or her ;^)

Now you kvetchers may quote the Aardvark.

"Put up or shut up."

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