Guest Post: Make A Trendy Noise Unto the Lord

Note: This is a guest post from David van Mersbergen.

Coming from a musical family with a church organist parent and grandparent, David began musical training at the age of eight years old with piano lessons. He began vocal training and choral singing in high school and continued in college with several tours of major cites in North America. He has studied music theory and history. His study of aesthetics as a branch of philosophy had guided his efforts to seek out music and art worthy of study, analysis, and praise. He continues to pursue musical performance by participating in community and professional organizations.  

The discovery was made when I performed “Hotel California,” a piece I had previously detested.

It had been sung very badly on many long bus rides to basketball games, track meets and field trips. Worse was that this piece had been singled out by many charismatic preachers in the late ‘70s to be about the church of Satan.

On playing it, however, the chord progressions were sound and made sense according to the rules of music theory. It should come as no surprise that the shock at how good this song was had context.

After playing Christian contemporary music with its three-chord variety for the last eight months, a song with eight distinct chords was welcome. How fun it was to play music that had intelligence to its chord progression.

I found it odd that music written about ‘materialism and excess’ was more musically deep and lyrically profound than most of the music written for praise and worship.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of pop music is trite, stupid and poorly written so as to appeal to the masses of musically illiterate consumers, but why is it that Christian contemporary music strives to emulate that kind of music?

What makes Christian contemporary music so horrible has been the subject of many posts on Facebook, as well as an episode of South Park.

Lyrics that are theologically untenable or fallacious, as well as overwhelmingly sentimental, provide little more than mind numbing ear candy for churchgoers.

Christian lyricists are not poets by any means.  If a song about creation contains the word “trees,” there will be in the following line the word “breeze.” Sadly, too many lyricists are not familiar with basic theological principles.

Songs proclaiming the love of Jesus Christ come across as if the singer is in love with a matinee idol. Don’t think so? If a song actually names our Lord and Savior instead of just using “you,” substitute “Justin” or “Liam” for Jesus and see how one-dimensional this praise and worship song is.

Pop songs that come across as desperate and codependent are now fit to bring into church because it’s Jesus you’re singing about. They are insulated from literary criticism by virtue of their being “spirit-filled” or “anointed.”

The unfortunate implication is that lyrics are more important for working a crowd or congregation into an emotional high rather than for opening the mind to hear the law and gospel of God.

Why does CCM all sound the same or just plain awful?  The limited number of keys that most CCM is written in explains a few things.

Sadly, the guitar has replaced the pipe organ as the instrument of choice for the church and music director. The keys of E, D, G, A and C are the most comfortable keys for the guitar player. This is true for many pop and country and western songs.

One humorous YouTube video (Editor’s note: Video contains brief profanity) claims that all country and western music is the same, splicing clips of different songs into one loop until it sounds like a regular song.

Why? Aside from topics (trucks, beer, women), the keys and chord progressions are the same. The I-V-IV and I-VI-IV-V chord progressions are the most commonly used progressions in popular music.

Any melody can be written over these three or four chords with hardly any effort at all. With no harmonic variety in the music, the songs end up fundamentally sounding the same.

Praise and Worship leaders with little education in Western music, whose only exposure to music has been radio, television, and movies, churn out songs that reflect that exposure to the three-chord harmonic progression.

The result is that second-rate lyrics and simple chord progressions that were once the bastion of pop music have become customary in the Christian contemporary music.

Taking their cue from pop culture’s standard of quality, pastors and worship leaders embrace the lowest common denominator and clean it up (or wash it in the blood of Christ) for church.

Christian contemporary music is bad because the popular music it copies from the world is bad.  Lost is the idea of sacred music and the effort to produce it.

For most of the history of Western art in general, and music in particular, the Church, along with some of the aristocracy, was the major benefactor funding music for church worship services and ceremonial occasions.

Now the Church has become a consumer of popular music in its effort to reach a broader audience.

Pastors with little adherence to orthodoxy and practically no education in music or art now think the process of approaching God with humility, begging for forgiveness, receiving pardon for sins and resolving to lead a sanctified life should make way for a more palatable, seeker-friendly message.

Wanting to attract newcomers or those who are “turned off by traditional religion,” pastors and church leadership make the church service entertaining.

Congregations now confuse worship with entertainment, as if God needs a catchy tune get an audience. Such an objective can also be accomplished via a pole-dance.

Getting membership has become more important than proclaiming one’s sins can be and are forgiven, and that we are restored to a relationship with God.

Pastors have allowed the attention-seeking lead singer to educate the congregation on what music is.

Hymns with four-part harmony and theologically sound lyrics are replaced with karaoke-style sing-a-longs.

The cycle is complete when the young musician with mediocre talent decides to go to school to be a music leader, but has never read or sung a hymn, heard an oratorio, or seen an orchestra perform a symphony.

The church used to transform the culture, now it has become transformed by it.

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To Catch a Thief: Better Days with Better Movies

In 1984 by George Orwell, the people of Oceania are tranquilized through an endless stream of mass-produced, low-quality entertainment, from pop music to pornography.

Winston attends a movie featuring the gruesome deaths of a ship full of refugees. Julia works as an operator of novel writing machines, all part of the sinister Party’s propaganda apparatus.

In our own world, things are little different.

The state may not directly control the American entertainment industry. But that does not change the fact there are few recent films which are both popular and good.

This was not always so. Case in point: To Catch a Thief, a thriller in which there is not a single gunfight, sex scene, or four-letter-word.

To Catch a Thief demonstrates that it is entirely possible to make a thrilling, high-caliber film without resorting to vulgarity and shock-value.

The film tells the story of a retired cat burglar living in France who must now clear his name after a new “cat” begins pinching the valuables of American tourists.

Released in 1955, the film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and stars Cary Grant in the lead role. By today’s standards, it is rather tame for a thriller.

At the same time, it would probably bore young children who have spent too much time on the internet or watching television.

But for those with an appreciation for vintage cinema, it is a wonderful, beautiful film.

From the opening scene which abruptly cuts from a pleasant opening credits montage to a screaming woman, to the car chase along a narrow country road, to the final revelation of the thief’s identity, there is not a dull moment in it.

The plot is smart and airtight. Everything makes sense and every detail matters.

Even a dilettante such as myself can see that it is a technical masterpiece. From what little I know of cinematography, To Catch a Thief excels. It did after all win an Oscar for it.

Nor is there a shred of real indecency. No blood is shed, no skin is shown, not a single obscenity is uttered.

The action is focused on the events taking place, in keeping with the chief strength of film.

Where gravity is required, subtler means are in place to communicate the feeling, such as when an angry cook crushes a handful of carrots in his fist.

There is romance, and plenty of smooching, but not in the egregious, titillating way found in modern films. Where such displays today are meant to sell tickets, in To Catch a Thief they are meant to sell characterization.

Nor is there a trace of profanity. I have heard plenty of reports about how films such as Manchester by the Sea are fawned over by critics, despite their rejection by mainstream audiences.

The chief complaint of such films is that they are both inanely bleak and utterly polluted with swearing.

(I have not seen Manchester by the Sea, chiefly because I do not care to spend $13.00 to sit through that sort of thing.)

Andrew Klavan has noted that in the days of the Hayes Office, in which Hollywood self-regulated the content of its films, even the mediocre films were good by today’s standards.

Now, says he, filmmakers can show anything on screen, and now most films “kinda suck.”

I firmly believe that with the Hayes Office in place, filmmakers were forced to be creative with the limits they had to work with.

They knew that if they wanted to appeal to a mass audience, they had to make their films as decent as possible. To Catch a Thief was a product of this age, as are many classic films.

The system worked because the majority of moviegoers were average Joes living in middle America who just wanted to watch a good movie without having to endure an exercise in pointless vulgarity.

Things have changed.

In the words of Cal Thomas: “Many old films are watchable today. Some are considered classics. I doubt most of today’s films will be worth watching in 50 years. They aren’t now.”

Image from rubinmuseum.org

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Monday Round-Up

Before I finish my series on Talk Radio, I thought I’d give a quick update about what I’ve been reading lately, some movies I’ve watched, and an idea I had for a startup.

Books

I recently finished reading two books related to Christianity and the church.

Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer is a short, slim read that concisely and brilliantly makes the case for involvement by Christians in creating works of art, whether they be the fine arts or more popular mediums like cinema or the novel.

The only flaw was the truly asinine introduction by Michael Card. You can read my full Goodreads review here.

The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson details how the modern American Evangelical church has embraced secularism in a misguided effort to attract large congregations.

Wilson is sympathetic to the motives behind this shift, but seems indecisive of whether the “church-growth” or “attractional church” models of churching are totally flawed or mildly good. You can read my full Goodreads review here.

Movies

I watched The Sound of Music all the way through for the first time a few weeks ago. It’s a truly charming film, containing many elements which are completely foreign to the modern era, such as positive depictions of the church and large families. I’d even go so far as to say that Maria von Trapp ought to be hailed as a Feminist icon.

My full review on Letterboxd here.

I also finished watching the German film Downfall last night. It was a very difficult film to watch, similar to Twelve Years a Slave. Depicting the final days of Adolf Hitler during the Battle of Berlin, we see that one of history’s greatest monsters was in fact quite gentle and kind in his private life, even if he believed and acted on truly reprehensible ideas and ambitions.

I intend to review the film in more detail on Letterboxd shortly.

Ideas

I’ve recently been going through some of the books listed in The Personal MBA reading list.

As a Bible and theology enthusiast, I began to realize that something like that really needs to be provided for pastors, preachers, and ministers.

I began doing research on whether you really need to have a Seminary education to be a pastor. I found this article by Albert Mohler who stated that in the end, the answer is “no.”

Mohler opines that while having a formal education in the Bible’s original languages, church history, systematic theology, exegesis and homiletics would be a splendid thing for all preachers to have, the fact is that the cost of such an education is incredibly high.

The result is that seminary graduates tend to leave with tens of thousands of dollars in debt with no way of affording the meager salary a small church can offer them.

This gave me an idea: What if there was a resource website, similar to that of The Personal MBA, which provided a list of the 99 best books on Pastoring and related topics?

What if someone created a website or wrote a book detailing such knowledge, intended for use by lay ministers or preachers who can’t afford a formal seminary education?

I could call it, “DIY Seminary.”

Must investigate further.

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Popularity is Amoral

Many authorities seem to believe that if something is popular, it is therefore low quality. This is particularly true when it comes to works of fiction.

This is nonsense. There are plenty of popular works of fiction which are also good.

Inception. Star Wars. The Lord of the Rings. (Both the books and the films.)

Likewise, there is plenty of tripe out there which is enormously popular.

Twilight. (Both the books and the films.) Fifty Shades of Grey. (Ditto.) Most Adam Sandler movies.

The exact opposite of these two parallels are also true.

There are works of artistic genius mostly ignored by audiences (Twelve Years a SlaveLincolnHugo) and equally obscure works of utter hackwork (Dylan Dog: Dead of NightRepo Men).

In the end, popularity (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter. It’s amoral, like money. (See 1 Timothy 6:10).

The only thing that matters is why something is popular.

The Dark Knight was popular not just because it was good (that’s what made it memorable) but because it had a kick-butt marketing campaign (see here).

Similarly, the Twilight movies were popular not because they were good (they weren’t), but because they had a kick-butt marketing campaign (see here).

The principle of popularity being amoral can be seen everywhere. The films put out by Marvel Studios are generally mediocre aesthetically, but people do go to see them.

The late Roger Ebert said as much in his review of the 2011 Thor movie:

“Thor” is failure as a movie, but a success as marketing, an illustration of the ancient carnival tactic of telling the rubes anything to get them into the tent.

On the other side of the coin, Marvel’s Netflix properties, such as Daredevil and Luke Cage, are both television masterpieces and smash hits with audiences.

As I discussed a few months ago, more genuinely good artistic endeavors would be financially successful if one or both of the following were true:

  • If people had more disposable income.
  • If more artists had an entrepreneurial mindset.

The political economy of the arts and entertainment industry, it is definitely more feasible at this moment for artists to hustle up and market the heck out of their art rather than to wait around for a more forgiving economy.

Until then, rest assured that popularity neither certifies a film as good nor condemns it as bad.

It just is.

Note: I realize that in a past postArt Needs More Entrepreneurs (Part 2/2)“, I stated that popularity “generally” denotes quality, in that there must be a good reason for many people to pay for something. I now realize, in keeping with the subject of this post,  that this reasoning is crude, if not without merit. I intend to expand on this point in a future post.

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We Cannot Trust Modern Depictions of the Past. Watch Old Movies Instead.

When it was announced in May that ABC’s Agent Carter would be cancelled, I wondered if it would have succeeded if it had been kinder in its depiction of the Greatest Generation.

The male denizens of 1940s America in Captain America: The First Avenger were heroic stalwarts willing to fight and die for a noble cause.

By contrast, nearly every male character in Agent Carter is a portly desk-jockey with no regard for women. It would almost be caricature, except that the show takes itself completely seriously.

But even a brief examination of a few movies actually made in that era demonstrate a far different world. Women are respected by men as equals, being strong characters in their own right, and are often in positions of authority themselves.

Francis Schaeffer wrote that all art reflects the worldview of the artist. Logically, classic films depicting noble treatment of women in contemporary times are in line with a worldview that endorses such behavior in reality.

In a time when modern period pieces pull out all the stops to remind us just how stupid and backward our ancestors were, a more accurate picture of the past can be found in classic films.

In the 45 minute televised installment that was the pilot episode of Agent Carter, the eponymous heroine, played by Haylie Atwell, struts about post-World War II New York City as a secret agent.

The show takes every opportunity to remind us that all men are fat, lazy, sexist pigs, except for the subservient Jarvis (James D’Arcy).

One handicapped colleague who does stick up for Carter is immediately chastised by our heroine for thinking that she couldn’t fight her own battles. One wonders how exactly Carter wants men to behave.

Another fellow chews out a waitress, stating that the Nazis who put him in a POW camp gave him better food. I found myself contemplating how that rotund gentleman would ever have been accepted for military service.

Agent Carter isn’t the only modern TV show to follow this trend. A Christmas special for the popular BBC drama Sherlock re-imagines the show in Victorian London.

Once again, nearly all male characters are unrivaled sexists. In this take on the 1890s, Women are treated as mere chattel. The episode’s antagonists are a bizarre cult of suffragettes whose murders Holmes justifies in his concluding summation of the mystery.

Contrast this rubbish to the 1957 film Desk Set, starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.

With a tight script and a fun plot by today’s standards, this romantic comedy depicts women working in the offices of a large media corporation on a level equal to that of men and critical to the organization’s function.

In fact, the main conflict within that film isn’t the typical feminist cliche of women being hampered and discriminated against due to their sex. Rather, the conflict arises from the introduction of new technology into the workplace.

Take another film, Deadline – U.S.A. This 1952 film starring Humphrey Bogart shows multiple women not only in positions of power and influence, but almost universally in a positive light.

It features the owner of the newspaper which Bogart’s character runs, an elderly matron. She herself summarizes the problem with many female characters in fiction today, complaining that girls in her day are “all gall and no guts.” There’s also a career woman, a tough reporter and a respected member of the newspaper staff.

Regarding the Sherlock Christmas special, I recall a 1954 American Sherlock Holmes TV serial. In one episode, an English lord’s wife takes the blame for a murder apparently committed by her husband.

This particular husband, however, is not an oafish pig. Rather, he’s a man in a position of power suddenly put in an impossible situation.

Holmes deduces that the murder was actually committed by the lord’s secretary, the wife having taken the blame in order to keep her husband free of scandal in the midst of sensitive diplomatic wrangling.

Both Holmes and the husband commend the woman for her moral courage. In fact, all of the men do so, except for the weaselly secretary, who is arrested for his crime.

This is a very different take on Sherlock Holmes than we have recently seen.

My brief survey of a few obscure films and television programs is hardly comprehensive in nature, but perhaps you’ve heard of this one: Miracle on 34th Street.

This hugely popular film featuring a female lead in a position of authority (Maureen O’Hara) was critically acclaimed when it was first released in 1947. Surely the homogeneously misogynistic world of Agent Carter wouldn’t stand for such a thing!

Unless, of course, our television programs have been lying to us.

I have long since resolved not to watch much television in general, or even movies. Modern period pieces are almost always suspect in either medium.

But I will be happy to watch any film made prior to the 1970s. I daresay that people living in those times had a much better perspective on what the world was like in their era than we do today.

Image: Scene from Deadline – U.S.A. – Source: HamptonRoads.com

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Goodreads Review: Comics and Sequential Art

Comics and Sequential ArtComics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In what is probably the most academic text on comic books I have ever read, I was introduced to the works of Will Eisner in “Comics and Sequential Art.” I’d heard of Eisner before in passing, but had never given the man much thought. But after being twice recommended to read this book, I am now glad I finally did.

Simply looking at Eisner’s sample work from “The Spirit” and his other works featured in this book made me realize that he wasn’t just ahead of his time. Rather, comics have fallen backward. From what I’ve read in various comics from the 1980s to the early 2000s, Eisner’s influence on comics as a storytelling medium was strongly felt during this time period, but has slowly faded.

Chuck Dixon continues to lament to this day that the writing in American comics has weakened while the art has made leaps and bounds. Eisner, who wrote this book in 1984, foresaw this trend thirty years ago. He not only boiled down the raw principles of comics into a coherent whole, he noted that new technology will create both new challenges and new opportunities for comic book artists and writers.

In addition to that prognosis, he suggests that comic book writers and artists focus on crafting a good narrative in order to take advantage of a world where digital rendering and computers allow perfect coloring and shape-forming to be available to all, thus considerably leveling the playing field. I swear, this guy was a genius!

I now look forward to looking into his works with more detail, such as his graphic novel (a term he coined, I believe) “A Contract with God.” As someone who can’t draw to save my life, I would respectfully dissent from this great master’s judgement that the duties of artist and writer be vested in one person. However, I now know that such an arrangement was once the norm, not the exception. The more you know!

View all my reviews

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Casablanca: Old Hollywood’s Take on Being the Good Guy

I recently watched the 1943 film Casablanca, as part of my current preoccupation with old movies.

Set during World War II, it depicts the struggle of an American expatriate (Humphrey Bogart) who runs a Moroccan nightclub when his long-lost lady love (Ingrid Bergman) suddenly shows up with her husband, attempting to evade agents of Nazi Germany.

What interested me about Casablanca was how it presented a world far more tangled, wretched, and realistic than any modern depiction I can recall. Inception and The Dark Knight are creampuffs in comparison, even losing in terms of how tight their respective plots are.

At the same time, however, this mature, flesh-and-blood cinema manages to do all this without sinking into the thrall of violence and profanity. It tackles mature content with class.

Most importantly, it elevates the values of an older class of hero. This isn’t done to mockingly kick him from his pedestal, but to present him for serious study and reflection.

Casablanca provides a window into the world of the Greatest Generation, a world far more complicated that today, contrary to those who have inherited Hollywood might say.

To begin with, this film was created in the thick of an event which defined the twentieth century and continues to reverberate into the twenty-first. The Second World War influenced our art, our economy, our foreign policy, our manner of education, and even our eating habits.

For too many people my age it is little more than a mythical backdrop to the careers of Captain America, the Flash (Jay Garrick, that is) and Indiana Jones.

But when you realize that every piece of art reflects the worldview of the artist, as I believe Francis Schaeffer noted, you must conclude that the opinion of artists about that time concerning the war will color every form of art, including film, created during that time.

Suffice it to say, Casablanca firmly plants its feet not in the camp of the Allies or the Axis, but in the camp of Good as opposed to the camp of Evil. It is decidedly apolitical in a context and narrative backdrop where contemporary politics is pervasive.

To say this may sound strange, considering that in this case, Good is clearly personified by the Allies and Evil by the Axis, particularly the Nazis.

But when I say that Casablanca is apolitical, I only mean that it would make no difference whether the Allies or the Nazis won the War, either within the realm of fiction or in reality. What matters is that one side was Good and the other side was Evil, and the identity of both is obvious.

Rick, the protagonist played by Humphrey Bogart, emphatically cracks down on “politics” in his bar. But he unreservedly sacrifices his own personal happiness to make sure his former lover and her husband, an anti-Nazi journalist, can escape to safety.

Later, his reward is to join the fight against the Nazis on the side of the Free French, along with the lovably corrupt Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), who turns over a new leaf in the final minutes of the film.

Columnist Mark Tooley wrote in a 2010 piece in The American Spectator about the differences between Old Hollywood and New Hollywood. According to Tooley, “Old Hollywood privately misbehaved but publicly was glamorous and classy. New Hollywood is proudly trashy.”

Casablanca is very much a product of Old Hollywood. I’m no scholar of film history, having only the most rudimentary knowledge of the subject. But as I understand it, Old Hollywood knew that it’s easy to be decent when you inevitably get the girl at the end.

But when being good means not getting the girl, not coming home covered in glory, and not getting the commendation of your peers and mentors, it’s a little harder.

Casablanca plainly tells us that if you keep deciding to be one of the good guys until the end, despite all that, you’ll at least be one of the good guys. And that’s it.

As a Christian, if one translates “being one of the good guys” to “trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal salvation,” then one’s eternal reward will be far greater than anything that I just described.

Aesthetically, the film is stunning. Morally, the film is saintly, perhaps in the manner of David, in keeping with the Jewish heritage of Michael Curtiz, the director.

Most importantly, it’s a film that every man, woman, and child should see, and that is final.

Image courtesy of irishnews.com

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Art Needs More Entrepreneurs (Part 2/2)

In my previous post in this series, I discussed how popular culture and the arts have been in a state of stagnancy for a while now, but are slowly making a comeback. I will now expand on the subject of how we can encourage more and greater artistic innovation and growth.

In the internet age, it is easier than ever for artists and writers to market themselves, get their work out, find collaborators, and accumulate followings. But not many artists seem to be taking advantage of this state of affairs. Their lack of commercial success is not often a matter insufficient products, but of insufficient marketing.

As I stated in part one, I primarily buy old back issues (comic books, that is) that I know are good instead of those new, hot-off-the-presses books that, while good-looking, tends to lack substance. Again, if I have no reason to have confidence in the product’s quality, why should I buy it?

This is not to say that today’s entertainment lacks quality fare.

In comics, there is plenty of stuff both outside of the Big Two publishing houses (Marvel and DC) that’s both original and compelling, if not generally clean. I don’t always read stuff from independent publishers such as IDW and Image, but they and their publications do have significant followings.

Webcomics continue to provide quality content, such as Gannon Beck’s Space Corps and Scott Christian Sava’s The Dreamland Chronicles. Most of them are independent, creator-owned works, examples of true artist-entrepreneurs. We’ll return to this concept later.

In the realm of theatre, new musicals such as Hamilton and Newsies have taken young audiences by storm. I look forward to watching Hamilton myself one day, as it has come highly recommended from sources I know to be reliable. Any musical that gets people thinking about the lives of the Founding Fathers is definitely worth taking a look at.

Even in film, genuinely good movies are still being made, notwithstanding the sneers that certain popular adaptations continue to draw. The 2013 film 12 Years a Slave, for instance, is without a doubt the best new movie I’ve ever seen, though it was quite painful to watch due to the heartrendingly realistic portrayal of chattel slavery. I wouldn’t want to watch it again.

Going back a few more years, Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception remains the most original film, sci-fi or not, to be produced in recent memory. It is definitely worthy of its robust box office and numerous accolades.

Inception is also one of a very short list of recent films which fall within the classifications of “good” and “popular.” I’m certain the two need not be (nor haven’t always been) mutually exclusive.

The point of all this is that new, innovative artistic talent exists. There are people out there who are creating fresh, original, entertaining stories. They just aren’t always visible to mainstream audiences.

This isn’t so much a failure of product as it is a failure of marketing. Plenty of artists have a good product, but don’t have the marketing savvy or inclination toward business to get their name out.

The central reason this problem exists, I think, is because many artists shudder at the mention of “money,” “business,” “marketing,” “sales,” and “profit.” This is absolutely not true for all artists, maybe not even most artists, particularly Millennials.

But for many older persons in the arts industry, the prevailing wisdom in their circles has been that if you manage to make money or achieve popularity through your art, then you’re a “sell-out.” One theatre guy I know apparently gets most of his funding through government grants while his audience dwindles.

In the minds of these artists, if something sells and is popular, then there is definitely something wrong with it. I took a drama class during my community college days, and this attitude was rampant, especially in the textbooks we were assigned.

The drama enthusiasts seemed open to new types of theatre that attracted young people, but paradoxically were opposed to any kind of commercial theatre. I’m not alone in noticing this attitude. As Lyn Gardner, a theatre critic for The Guardian pointed out in a 2009 article:

That squeamishness is daft; after all, way back in a golden age of new writing, the careers of Shakespeare, Marlowe and their contemporaries relied entirely on the entrepreneurial flair of theatre owners. Our greatest playwright was a commercial writer working for a commercial management.

But this chrometophobia is not found in all artists. What may in one case result from antipathy toward anything related to the word “profit” may in another case result from simple ignorance of basic marketing principles.

One of the biggest is, “You have to spend money to make money.” This could mean hiring a decent web-designer to make you a good-looking landing page. That alone would surely increase the amount of traffic that half of these webcomics get.

Plenty of artists know how to use Patreon and Indiegogo but most aren’t making it clear through their website design that people can actually donate. I didn’t know that Space Corps had a Patreon account until last month, and I’ve been reading it for the better part of a year!

I’m not saying this stuff is easy, it’s not. I am saying that more artists need to start thinking like entrepreneurs if they want to get a large following behind their work.

Like it or not, art is a business, and that’s perfectly okay. If people are willing to pay money for something, that’s generally a good indicator of quality. (Key word: generally.)

(Image credit: Vienna Opera Backstage, Austria” by Jorge Royan is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

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Art Needs More Entrepreneurs (Part 1/2)

In this day and age, we are said to live in the Golden Age of Television. We’re watching more TV more often and more enthusiastically than ever before. On lunch break you’re more likely to chat with your coworker about the latest season of Orange is the New Black than the last thing you saw at the nearest movie theater.

Indeed, television is going through a renaissance, what with the dawn of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime which allow us to stream innumerable hours of TV, old and new, into our homes and onto our screens. These new platforms also allow for the production of original content which, appropriately enough, is refreshingly original.

But while TV is doing fine, can the same be said of other art forms? I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie in the theater that wasn’t an adaptation, let alone a good movie. Going to the movies is also quite pricey, so regularly going to see any movies in the theater other than the latest Marvel flick is not something I’m interested in.

Comics are a growing area of interest in terms of aesthetic quality. They have been for a long time. Indeed, new advances in technology have allowed fans of older issues like myself to catch up without accumulating a pile of back-issues. Comic book art (penciling) is better and more original than ever before.

However, that’s where the innovation ends. Chuck Dixon lamented on a Goodreads blog post that quality of writing has gone out the window, even as penciling continues to improve. I can’t say I disagree with Mr. Dixon, whose run on Robin is my primary area of interest at the moment. I am happily reading through his work on that title at present, which dates back to the mid-1990s. Thank goodness for Comixology.

There are plenty of good new novels to read, I’m sure. But the most popular ones seem to serve merely as fodder for distended, big-budget movie franchises, often of dubious quality. The books themselves are hit-or-miss, ranging from spectacularly good (The Book Thief) to hilariously awful (Twilight).

I’ve dabbled in the theatre, and have found the typical production put on by my local community theater to be wanting. The last play of theirs I went to see was an obscenely pretentious melodrama where every other line had the characters bursting into song.

A glance at the program told me that this was almost literally the case, with a brief, expletive-laden exchange between two characters being listed as one of the musical numbers, even though no actual song was sung in that instance. A college theatre class, and the plays we were instructed to watch and study, were all it took to solidify my suspicion that most modern theatre is a pompous exercise in pointless vulgarity.

However, I do love a good play, such as the production of Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Carol that this same theatre put on last Christmas. I still remember an occasion where my father and I went to see Max McLean’s Screwtape downtown when it was on tour in Seattle a few years ago. I eagerly await the arrival of West Side Story and 1776 in the mail from Netflix.

So, we see that all art, from TV to comics to theatre, is having its ups and downs. But what is the common factor that could inaugurate a golden age not just for television, but for all art?

The answer is entrepreneurs and freer markets. We’ll talk more about that next time.

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