Thursday, March 11, 2010

Art as Commodity?

Commodity is defined as some good for which there is a demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. Can Art be a commodity? Can artists and their chosen practices be bought and sold? How do artists balance creating, pure, meaningful work with paying the bills and living in a free, capitalistic society?

Herbert Berghof, an Austrian-American theatre performer, director and writer stated the following: “If we truly want a theatre, which is more than a commodity, we must omit the buying and selling and function as free artists. And, if we agree that freedom can’t be bought, we must face that it is based on responsibility to our fellow man.” Mr. Berghof was also a socialist, born in Vienna who was accustomed to the theatre system in Europe, where actors are continually employed. He immigrated to the United States in 1939 and also enjoyed great success in the Hollywood movie industry. He made a lucrative living practicing his art in the United States.

What made me think about Mr. Berghof was the following Deleuze quote, “…this minor practice is produced through a manipulation of the elements of the major.” Deleuze further states, “ What defines majority is a model you have to confirm to…” Mr. Berghof is an example of an artist who participated in mainstream Hollywood in order to fund and create his “minor art”. Herbert Berghof created H.B. Play Writes Foundation with the money he earned from working as an actor in the film Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. From this one Hollywood acting job he was able to purchase an old garage on bank Street and turn it into a theatre; he created “minor art” in this space.

Deleuze states, “ A minor art is involved in the invention and imagining of new subjectivities as well as turning away from those already in place […] It is once inside and outside the major, in the ‘world’ but not quite of it.” Mr. Berghof in spite of his bitterness at the mismanagement of Broadway Theater and mainstream Hollywood, was able to practice and create art on his terms. Would this have been possible to achieve without his financial success in the great Hollywood machine? Mr. Berghof was a man who was in the “world” but not quite of it.


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