The Destruction of Art

I should be watching M, but I just don't have it in me right now. Maybe later this week or tonight. My head is killing me, and I got to thinking of some things.

People who know me know I think the idea of stealing art is the highest compliment that can be paid to a piece. Recently, though, I was asked how the theft of art differs from illegally downloading MP3s, which I'm against. The answer is easy enough to be obvious, but I'll explain.

Stealing a one-of-a-kind piece of art is a compliment because the theft (at least how I would do it) occurs because you like the piece so much you must have it. It is the only one of its kind in the world, and you now possess it. Illegally downloading an MP3 is the same as shoplifting a piece of candy from the store. It has nothing to do with art, and is in fact anti-art as it treats the music as just another commodity.

It seems that as of late people have been less and less concerned about the artistic value of things like movies, music, books and the like, and are more obsessed with it being just another product, a fleeting piece of entertainment at best.

We've always had works that are pure entertainment and some that are artistic and entertaining. We've also always had people who can't see anything's artistic value and base their enjoyment of whatever work is in front of them solely on its entertainment factor. MP3s are just another example of this. The music is no longer an artistic work. It is a file floating through the air.

Gone are the days of examining an LP's artwork. Now you just download it and maybe you can see the art on the screen. You no longer have to crack open a book, either. You can just download it to your Kindle. And movies? Well, who the hell would want to download a foreign film, right? Pshaw!

All of that bothers me. Not only because it effects me as a writer, but also because it directly implies that the artist and his or her creativity and worth is not valued by a large portion of society.

I have a friend in a band who asked me if I thought the fines brought against downloaders were enough. I can't say who he is because our conversation was not meant to be published, but he is of the mind that illegally downloading hurts music and also has concerns about how art is treated in American society. My answer to him was that I don't think the fines go nearly far enough because they haven't done much to dissuade the downloading. He asked me what I thought should be done, and I told him that I felt it was up to the bands invovled. I then said if I caught someone stealing something I created, not because it was a one-of-a-kind that they must have, but because they just didn't feel like paying for it, I would cut off their arm. Just one arm. Just to send a message.

He liked the idea.

More important than the punishment, however, is the attitude. When people start treating everything as disposable, it all becomes disposable. I don't want to live in a society that doesn't value the contribution of the artist. I want to be in a place where the artist of whatever work is important. Where the work has meaning. Where art is as important (if not moreso, but that's pushing it) as entertainment. Artists deserve to be reimbursed for their work just as everyone else does, too. Nobody likes working Burger King for free, but imagine if that's what was done to you by your boss. Just because the artist creates something doesn't mean he shouldn't reap benefits from it if it is worthy of such.

(And I understand a lot the record labels are driving these lawsuits and they are just as bad as "pirates" for treating the artists and their musical works as commodities, but the argument does not lose validity because of that.)

I have friends who illegally download movies, music, books and everything else they can get their hands on. And I have heard just about every bit of justification, though nobody has ever really got me to buy their argument. All of them, it should be noted, like to be paid for the work they do.

I wish people respected the work that went into creation. Unless you do it, it's hard to imagine what you go through. It's not like selling auto insurance or even building swimming pools. You are usually creating something from nothing, and when it's treated the same as a roll of toilet paper (if not worse in some cases), it returns it to nothing and shows nothing but disrespect for the creator. If the art and artist means nothing to you, then why not leave it alone? Why not avoid downloading it? Is it somehow morally acceptable to say, "Hey, I know you spent a lot of time creating this. I know a lot of thought went into it and it went through many variations before the finished piece saw the light of day. I know you have bills to pay, too, but I want this and I don't think you deserve to be paid for it. I think it's mine just because I can make it mine. I know a lot of songs are just .99, but I can't even be bothered to pay that. And a movie ticket? No way. It's okay that you make these things, and it's okay that other people pay for it, but don't expect me to."

Imagine if the roles were reversed. Imagine you work your 40 hour week (and far too many artists -- it's obscene, really -- do the 40 hours and work at creating) and you come in for your check and your boss says, "Sorry. I just don't feel like paying you."

I can't force anyone to respect art, but I do think we can all reasonably assume that people want their work, whatever it may be, to have value. All those justifications that I hear have been weak because they all boil down to the same thing: You don't value the artist or the art enough to pay, but you value it enough to sit back and enjoy it.

Maybe someday turnabout will really be fair play. In the meantime, I've got my axe sharpened.


Nikki said...

Seriously Doug, you are the most violent, over-reactive person I've ever known. That's all I'm saying on this subject.

-Doug Brunell "America's Favorite Son" said...

I'm actually quite calm.

Nikki said...

You are an eerie-calm person. You are the type that could very calmly hack a person into fifty pieces if they pissed you off enough. One can be violent while remaining perfectly calm. In fact, some of my rare violent thoughts come during a moment of utter calmness. Those are the scariest.