The Madonna-Whore Complex applied to the Arts in Business
It’s no secret. I am in the wrong business for making money. I’m a writer.
I write for the pleasure of writing; I believe it to be my role in life. And I hope my writing does more for the world than just buy me a new car. Though that would be cool if it did. (Yes, I’ve already seen a therapist.)
Nonetheless, it has sparked an interest in me. It doesn’t take much looking around to see what we don’t hesitate to spend our hard-earned dollars on, and what we always hesitate or second-guess what we spend money on.
The most obvious problem is, ‘I don’t have a lot of money, therefore I buy what I have to.’
Yet, I think the problem runs deeper than that.
First off, there are people who have money. Let’s not talk about the people below the poverty line, but those who are most likely reading this, the middle class - lower and upper. For me, this includes anybody from the average factory worker to the successful doctor - the guy with the big house in a small town or the lady with the one-bedroom apartment in the big city.
Wherever you are in the world or on the scale fo middle-class, we are all a bit guilty of doing one thing. When it comes to paying for certain things, we have a bit of reluctance. We may have the money, but we conveniently forget our credit cards or cash or PIN to the app on our phone.
What are these certain things? Anything intimate to us; such as our desires, our feelings, or our vulnerabilities. When it comes to these things, we don’t feel it is ‘right’ to pay for it.
I suppose we could start by looking at the fact that we started this world not having to pay for anything. Depending on your parents, you will slowly start to come to terms with the idea of having to buy things.
It may be 12 or 13 when you get your first job to pay for the things you want. (I’m from Arkansas and had a waiver.)
Or, more likely, you may get an allowance from your parents to get what you want, but your parents pay for all the necessary things.
The responsibility grows a bit more into high school where you begin to pay for your gas.
This continually evolves until you are paying your rent, buying your bread, and making the hard choices of, ‘Do I want to pay $0.50 for the extra cheese for my nachos?’
Once again, this will scale depending on your family, culture, etc.
I started working as soon as I could, plus doing chores around the house for anything I ‘wanted’. I still consider myself middle class knowing some kids at the same age were homeless or dropping out of school to take care of younger siblings.
Others may have their parents take care of them through college or beyond. The mindset may be a bit different depending on where you stand, ‘I only have so much money that my parents give me,’ or ‘I only have so much I’ve made.’ Though for this special society-wide neuroses I am talking about, I believe it touches us all.
We don’t think twice about buying eggs or milk, though perhaps what day of the week we buy it. Nonetheless, we don’t hold anything against the farmer who put those products in front of us for our consumption. Nor do we, generally, despise the technician for fixing our computer. It’s part of the world of trade and fair exchange.
Yet, our ‘higher needs’ feel as though they should be outside this world.
We don’t want to pay for friendship
We don’t want to pay for spiritual guidance
We don’t want to pay for therapeutic consolation
We don’t want to pay for comforting hugs
And we sure as hell don’t feel like we should pay for love
This brings me to the meat of the subject. The subject that is a bit closer to home…
The arts are where the higher things call home. It is where we feel. It is what touches on our guilty passions, hidden desires, and lonely vulnerabilities.
Whether reading a well-written story, hearing a touching song, or staring at a breath-taking sculpture, the arts connect us to that part of ourselves beyond the beast that needs food, shelter, and clothing.
Yet, when a writer or singer or painter asks us for some sort of compensation for the work they have given us, we cast a most suspicious eye their way. We simply don’t like the idea that what we consider to be meaningful to be marketed and sold for profit.
Perhaps this is at the fault of the artists themselves. Looking back into history, we can see the divide widen with the Industrial Revolution and further divide with a more consumer-driven society.
The more refined commodities tried to separate themselves from commercialization. It’s like a band today may lose credibility if they sign with a big label and start making music videos that appeal to the masses. There is a sense of purity that comes with being the ‘poor yet great’ artist, or more infamously ‘the starving artist’.
Money seems to be treated by many people as a sort of taboo in the same way we treat sex:
I believe artists want to be respected for their work, but also be allowed to grow financially with it. Yes, they want to help change the world in a meaningful way, but they’d also like to buy more than a can of beans while they do it.
The arts shouldn’t just be a hobby for the curious. It should have its respected place as an industry. Mostly, in the sense for payment. A designer shouldn’t have any more hesitation or awkwardness about asking for payment any more than a butcher or a police officer.
Much like repressing one’s sexuality hurts a person’s psyche, by idealizing the arts above financial concerns, we make the industry weaker rather than stronger.
It is indeed possible to be both sensual and intellectual, just like the arts can be fiscally active while maintaining its sacred style.
We should be able to see a service or product offered that satisfies one of our higher needs just as necessary as our everyday material needs. And more importantly, the person that created the art should be allowed to look out for his or her own interest as unashamedly as the baker selling bread.
Believe it or not, the most valuable things can be bought without them being demeaned. Be it a meaningful poem or an inspirational photo. It’s a madonna-whore complex we must overcome concerning money.
We don’t think twice about spending $20 to get our nails done which may bring us happiness for a day or week at most and only requires a few minutes of a person’s time, but when it comes to spending a quarter of the same amount for a book that took months to write and could change our perspective on life or make us feel less alone in this world, we hesitate.
As much as we want to protect the arts from the carnal world, we may do it a great disservice by trying to protect it from the filth of money.