Bennett's Blog

Can art and business co-exist?

Bennett R. Coles | December 3, 2010

Is it possible to make great art and great profits at the same time? There seems no end of stories of brilliant artists, musicians and writers who languish in obscurity, unable to get The Man to appreciate their genius and promote it. Likewise, just turn on your TV to see just how much vapid crap is pumped out to an (apparently) eager audience.

As an artist who certainly tries to create intelligent, thought-provoking and yet entertaining writing, it saddens me to think that humanity's creativity appears to have been reduced to just an input to an accountant's spreadsheet. As a businessman I understand that companies have to turn a profit - otherwise they cease to exist. But nowadays company profits are most often reviewed on a quarterly basis, which means you have three months to make a project work: if it's not showing promise by the end of the quarter, you better ditch it and go with a sure-thing fast-earner. As a businessman, I think that our obsession with quarterly results is misguided anyway - there are plenty of valuable business projects that take longer than that to mature - but this is particularly true with the arts.

A truly brilliant work of art may not be fully appreciated at a glance. Indeed, one quality that can make art brilliant is the fact that you discover something new every time you see it. Multiple layers and hidden meanings are part of what can make art great, as well as cultural and historical context that requires greater understanding and thought to be appreciated. I do think that great art should be able to be appreciated at first glance (thus drawing a more thorough examination) but instant likeability or comprehension isn't required.

What does this mean for a business? It means that great art may not fly off the shelves immediately or drive your ratings through the roof after one episode. Great art needs time to be appreciated, time for the audience to grasp that they're seeing something new and that it's good. But give it time, and great art will provide a great following, which will (eventually) provide great profits.

So yes, it can be done. But it requires much greater patience than the majority of publishers, studios and networks are willing to invest these days. The way to solve this problem doesn't require a discussion about art - it requires a discussion about business. More on that in another post.

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