Why Are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts

By Hans Abbing | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
The Cost Disease Do Rising Costs in the Arts Make Subsidization Necessary?

No Cost is too High When it Comes to High Quality

Ruth Towse told Alex the following story from the opera world. When
Samson and Delilah by Saint Saëns was staged by the Royal Opera House
in London it included a large chorus. All chorus members had expensive
fitted silk dresses. The woman playing Delilah at one point complained that
her silk dress did not stand out enough from the other dresses. So they put
the expensive dresses with the exception of Delilah's in a washing
machine. The effect of washing silk in a washing machine was as expected.
The point of whether Delilah was unreasonably demanding or right wasn't
the issue; a small improvement had been bought at great expense. The
expense was unnecessary because, according to Ruth, cheap dresses
could have been made for the chorus members and the silk dresses could
have been saved for a later occasion. The problem could have been solved
for a lot less money. Plus had the designers been more cost-minded, they
would have thought twice about having all the silk dresses looking exactly
alike. What shocked Ruth was the total disregard for costs.


Costs are Irrelevant; Artistic Justification is All that Matters

Alex's friend, Gerald, is a composer of contemporary classical music.
When Gerald graduated from the conservatory, Alex heard the composi
tion he'd written for his final exam, as performed by a large student orches
tra. Alex enjoyed it a lot. Since then, Gerald has written three more pieces
for a large orchestra. None of them have been performed yet. After that he
has also written eight pieces for small ensembles, of which seven have
been performed; some of them several times. So, compared to other
young composers he is relatively successful. Alex observes that part of the
trick must have been writing compositions that are less costly to perform.
Gerald is furious, and begins a long involved story explaining how his rea
sons for writing for small ensembles were purely artistic. It was a `natural'
step in his artistic development and it had absolutely nothing to do with
lower expenses perhaps increasing the chances of getting his work per
formed.

-152-

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