Assigning Value to Art, Music, and Reality TV

How do we decide, as a capitalist society, what creative expression is worth? How do we stick a price tag on a painting, an experience, or an object like a urinal that someone (okay, Marcel Duchamp) has declared to be, by virtue of its placement and his intention, art? My distant cousin Harold Shapinsky spent his life holed up in an garret apartment splashing paint on canvas without any support from market forces until he reached 60 years old, at which point he finally broke through. When society told him his paintings were worth something, they confirmed what he himself already knew, but at that point he had spent the bulk of his life struggling; being an unacknowledged artist had defined him from the age of 15.

Reality TV and rock-and-roll are very different genres from highbrow visual art, but they too live and die according to the whims of the market. Slate put up a list recently of what different bands earn for a performance. The results are so disparate as to seem almost random. Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake both make $1 million+ per show, while Ke$ha, despite that dollar sign in her name, tops out at less than a quarter of that. Lorde pulls in slightly more than Ke$ha, and, though Bon Jovi also nabs a cool $1 million, Bob Dylan commands only slightly more than Lorde. Backlash to those sell-out Victoria Secret commercials, perhaps?

It Takes Three Generations to Produce an Artist

Harper's Jesse Barrons recently chatted with author and essayist Russell Banks.

Donkeys in Detroit? DNC Considers Motor City for 2016

The Democratic National Committee asked fifteen cities to submit proposals to host its 2016 convention, and among the obvious contenders one is raising eyebrows: Detroit, Mich.

Conventions bring more than passionate partisans in funny hats. When delegates descend, they bring with them millions of dollars in revenue. (And occasionally some really awful pick up lines. A GOP delegate in New York tried to get me excited by saying, “Ester? That’s an old-fashioned name. I like old-fashioned women.”) Sometimes they revitalize the local sex industry! It can be a big deal to a struggling metropolis.

Getting Paid for Art Not Easy

Artists in Canada get guaranteed stipends. In the U.S., they don't.

Someone Stole Lisa Congdon’s Art And She’s Pissed (She Should Be)

“In the world of art & illustration, you can use the artwork of artists on your products as long as you ask permission, sign a licensing agreement with the artist, and agree to compensate them. I sell my images to companies all the time, companies who ask my permission and compensate me for my intellectual property. In this case, I was never contacted, asked permission or paid. That is called copying. It’s also called stealing.”