In a recent article on The Atlantic’s website, William Deresiewicz criticizes the modern push towards entrepreneurial art, claiming that it’s putting an end to art as we know it. He outlines the previous labels associated with artists: from the “artisan”, whose art revolved around notions of tradition and craftmanship, to the “genius” that evolved from the individualism of the Romantic Era, and ultimately arriving to the institutionalization of art in the mid-nineteenth century. During this culture boom, the artist became institutionalized as well– from the genius to the “professional”. In the age of modern capitalism, however, the artist has moved from the professional to the entrepreneur. Now, artists no longer need to rely on the mediating nature of institutions of art for their careers. We have moved on the the age of the self-employed, where everyone is their own boss and everyone is in charge of their own brand. We are in the age of self-motivated opportunity, where every artist has complete agency over their own career.
This shift in the nature of how we create and consume art undoubtedly calls into question the future of art itself. According to Deresiewicz, the entrepreneurial movement brings about a bleak future for the artist. He predicts shallower connections within networking; weaker practice within their discipline, due to the rise of a more multifarious artistic identity; and the commodification of artwork itself. Instead of dutifully working to master their single craft, modern artists are striving to be multidisciplinary, and at the expense of gaining skill in a single discipline. Artists are now creating a larger quantity of art, for the consumption of more people, and in turn compromising their potential single masterpiece. Deresiewicz deems this culture shift as the death of the artist. However, is this future really so dire? Do we need to presume every change in art as a downfall? Or should we merely accept it as a change, and take advantage of this exciting and transitional time?
In the past, every artistic change has been met with pessimism. In the 18th century, when the novel became the popularized medium for literature, there was a moral and cultural panic, as they believed it was the degeneration of literature. Eventually, films became the mainstream medium for storytelling, and more recently, television has become a favored artistic medium for the storyteller. While these changes were all met with extreme skepticism from critics, they were all able to produce brilliant and beautiful works of art. I believe that creative entrepreneurialism will also result in truly amazing art.
The fear is that consumerism will cloud the agency of the artist, and they will only try to make art that people will want to consume– essentially, they will sell out. However, in this age, everyone will be able to pursue their artistic career. We will be flooded with media to consume– so much media, that it will become pointless for the artist to specifically cater to the masses. For example, look at the current music industry– twenty years ago, this number of musicians and bands would never be able to have the successful careers they have now. Through Soundcloud, Spotify, BandCamp, and other online mediums, the number of working musicians has skyrocketed. There is no way an individual person can consume all the music out there, so they pick and choose what specifically resonates with them. Instead of conforming to the masses, the creative entrepreneur will be even more unique to themselves. They will have a brand that is unique to them, they will have a message that is personal to them, and they will unapologetically create until someone connects to their work. Art is the expression of the self; this new age of artistic entrepreneurs will be an age of connection through art. It will be an age of truths meeting other truths. There will always be artists who sell out, and there will always be artists who remain true to themselves. With the dramatic increase of art production we are soon going to witness, we have an opportunity that is unique to this moment in time. It is an opportunity of individual artistic power, a time for more voices to be heard, and ultimately, a chance for widespread human connection to occur through artistic expression.