Spiked Online on Art, Commerce, and Rebellion

At Spiked, Patrick West explains one of the most overlooked accomplishments of punk: the unabashed, open acknowledgment of commerce as necessary for the pursuit of art.

[A]rtists have always had their patrons, and have produced art in accordance to their patron’s or their government’s taste. William Shakespeare famously produced pro-Tudor propaganda (Richard III being the most notorious example) for the simple reason that he needed to earn his own ‘filthy lucre’. And while the Catholic Church would never have comissioned such dark, misanthropic plays as Hamlet orMacbeth, it is thanks to the Vatican’s patronage that we have many of the works of Michelangelo.

‘Government ’ and ‘corporations’ have always controlled art, and it is naive to think this is just a new phenomenon. One of the best things punk did was to draw our attention to this historical norm so starkly. Yes, Lydon’s bald cynicism may be frustrating. But it is worth keeping in mind that this Christmas just past, the UK number one slot was fought over between fans of a manufactured TV popstar, and those who favoured that teenage ‘No I WON’T clean up my room!’ anthem by Rage Against the Machine. With little regard for irony, fans of RATM even downloaded en masse a song about anti-conformity.

Unfortunately, as West notes, the commercialization of rebellion — or rather rebellious posing — is still too often lost on its consumers.

But there’s another important point to keep in mind — elitist complaints about the rise of mass culture can often translate into complaints about the masses having access to culture.

For more on why patronage is quite OK, see here.