Likes, network, subsidies: Which currency can you survive on?

By Katharina Sabetzer

The economization of everyday life, an immediate off-set against any investment, unconditional evaluations to reduce risks, the merciless question above all: What’s in it for me? What do I get out of it? This area of conflict has long emerged in most areas from election campaign slogans to health care, and certainly hasn’t left the field of culture unaffected.

But idealism in form of subsidies and patronage continues to hold. Some humans and institutions still see the common good above immediate financial success, and view the enabling of art as a means for the existence and development of democracy. The sort of art that can’t fill stadiums or drive up viewing figures, ratings, and clicks, but rather unearths the new and inspiring,  the art that can give a new perspective on the world before history overtakes us.

How much security does creative development need? And how much freedom?

The freedom of creative work is only an apparent freedom – independent of its artistic direction. “One has to be able to afford to become a successfully precarious author first,” writes Florian Kessler in Die Zeit, and then breaks down the homogenous, bourgeois origins of those educated in todays great writing schools. For him this is one of the causes of an uncontroversial and apolitical development in contemporary literary creation.

Certain forms of security are necessary to create new, experimental forms of cultural production,” says Marc Fisher, a cultural scientist who even disputes the existence of any innovation in youth culture.

Does fear of economic failure inhibit creative development? The culture sector as well as the entertainment industry coil themselves around schemes, milking big successes until even the last audience member has fallen asleep in front of the screen. The landscape of subsidies has become subject to public pressure for justification, and is paralyzed in its own bureaucracy.

“High culture and pop culture meet in the refusal to recognize economics as part of their historic condition, their operational formation and their specific aesthetics,” writes Stefan Krankhagen, professor of cultural studies, in a Merkur series on “Hochkultur” worth reading.

With the cynicism that is so common for our present time, overwhelming jungles of subsidies and financial aid schemes have come to open up a new source of income for artists: Those who have come to understand the world of grant applications, reports, evaluations and economizing everything so well, are now offering their know-how to their less-fortunate colleagues in workshops.

Of course for an appropriate market rate. After all, it must pay off.

Katharina Sabetzer is a communication consultant for artists and small business owners, and founder of Erzählbar.