the economy of art


Things are really crazy at work. We're scrambling to write a proposal for potential funders to complete the UN documentary--now moving beyond a story about peacekeeping missions in Haiti, among others, to also include footage of the post-earthquake recovery/rebuilding process. It wouldn't be so hectic if my boss weren't leaving for Sundance on Saturday and wanting something in hand to give to folks.

I brought a designer in today who seems really on point, the kind of high-level concept woman I've always wanted to be from a communications standpoint. Wait a minute, scratch that. The kind of woman I would want to be if I weren't already committed to my life as a writer/filmmaker. (That sounds a lot better.)

I started off in global communications outside of college, then started freelancing as a writer and editor, then worked with private clients in my own communications consultancy, before becoming gainfully employed as a Communications Director. It sounds really linear now, but was nothing of the sort--in fact, it was only by sheer tenacity that I made anything of myself at all. I was a biology major in college, a pre-med, and I learned firsthand that the worst thing you can ever do in college is earn a degree you don't want to use.

I think the fact that I'm a storyteller is the only reason I made it. It was my ability to relanguage myself--in resumes, interviews, and grad school--that allowed me to imagine and create something different for my life. The whole marketing/design thing? Pure invention. I started off doing odds and ends for an indie magazine in Brooklyn, for free of course, took a few useful courses in a year of film school, and here I am.

But most days, I'd rather be writing than dealing with the business of art.

I think to myself, what is it really gonna take to reinvent myself as a full-time writer? And I wish I could wave a wand and it would be done. But it's about sitting down every day and confronting my real self, not the one I have imagined and created for public consumption. Damned if I haven't tried to cut corners, to sell the book without writing it (can't tell you how many proposals I've written), but it's the only thing I can't imagine, can't fake.

In every way, I believe that books, films, and plays are real things--durable goods that are essential to the functioning of society. They must be made, and each is an act of love and generosity. Each one, regardless of aesthetic value, is a repository of culture, language, and history.

I think that this makes art and artists vitally important. I thought it was really interesting that, in a speech capping a yearly wrap-up of the economic successes and failures in Akwa Ibom, a political leader praised Chimamanda Adichie for her many awards, saying that more Nigerians should be writing. At first I thought, Wait a minute, she's not even from Akwa Ibom! Then I marveled at how quickly the leader wrapped himself in her success, how central writers in fact are to the history of the world, when so many continue to see art as merely derivative or tangential.

Funny how more and more those of us living in developed nations are coming to realize that these economies are based on derivatives of virtual goods with no real value whatsoever. (I don't know if that made sense, but it sounded good.) All we want at the end of the day is something to hold on to -- maybe even a good book.

I'm tired and I'm not going anywhere with this, so I'll stop here. I also realize I have been jumping around from topic to topic. I will definitely write more about my trip. Later.

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