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Saturday, January 4, 2014

What Luxury?



Here. Now. 2014.


Is art a luxury? Is it yours? I tried (unsuccessfully) to figure this out while writing The Beat on Ruby’s Street. I decided that the Beat Generation artists felt it was their air, water and shelter—metaphorically and even physically.

If you don’t think of it that way, I still have a question. How long (counting days) do you go without the following:

  • Listening to music
  • Watching TV  (and yes, Virginia, it counts as entertainment/art)
  • Reading (fiction, non-fiction, poetry)
  • Seeing a movie or play
  • Visiting a museum
  • Poetry
Week? Month? Day? What would happen if you didn’t (couldn’t) do any of these things?

If there were no stories to read or watch, wouldn’t you make one up? Isn’t that what people did before they had printing presses and movie screens? We sat around fires (when we figured out how to build them) and told each other stories. And the best storytellers were prized for their abilities.


Obviously I’m writing this with my own biases, and you already know what they are. But whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear from you. Especially about what you spend on art.


I hear from a lot of people who say they don’t mind paying ticket prices but don’t give to theater companies or museums because they don’t really help anyone. While I don’t ever want to compete with the many necessary causes people give to, I don’t think people understand that ticket prices cover only a fraction of what you see.


Example? One of my favorite Twin Cities theater companies mounts innovative, award-winning musical theater. To create a piece with professional actors, musicians, and crew including director and choreographers, pay for the venue and publicity, they need at least $150,000. They depend on donors to get there and I’m one of them. Because I’d rather live in a world where this kind of theater exists, and it won’t exist without support.


Books? Don’t get me started. Thousands to print, design, publicize and illustrate.

Some people say that’s what Kickstarter is for. Others say, the Beats knew they weren’t going to make money and made peace with it.

I say, what is it about the world that pays its rock stars well and likes its poets and artists poor and scrounging?


I’ll leave you with two of my favorite lines from the Sondheim musical Sundays in the Park with George. It’s framed as a conversation between husband and wife:

“Artists work, Franz. I think they work very hard.”

“Work is what you do for others, liebchen. Art is what you do for yourself.”

Yeah, sure. But I’m still wondering… how long do you go without those movies, books, etc. (see above?)

Week? Day? Minutes? You tell me.