Asparagus Pee Guest Columnist - Barry Marks

But Is It Art?

The problem with publishers today is that they are responsible to their shareholders and not to art and they make a lot of artistic decisions... and don't (and can't) consider the welfare of the art that feeds them.

A likely scenario, assuming the publishing industry survives the pirates, would be for publishing to become like TV, the lowest common denominator. TV is even eliminating its writers now with the reality shows.

Historically writers have created not just books but the idea of books. The novel form was something writers thought up. Publishers got involved to get them to the readers but the writers made the decisions about what the reader would see. Not today. Not usually. Not even in the "approved by the author" case, unless the author is important enough to have real control, and not many are. That's a cop-out. A PR gimmick.

Remember the tobacco ads? I'm an old-time radio listener and I still hear them. "Doctors recommend Chesterfield for better health." "Approved by the author." And so it goes.

There's an even bigger downside to the publishing thing-a-ma-jig. It's in the interest of publishers to do everything they can to popularize reading, or listening. Popularity is a killer. It destroyed science fiction, for example. Let a TV show get popular and the suits in charge start insisting on turning it into a soap opera to maximize the audience, eventually destroying the show. Let the audience decide what music they want to hear and we go from Beethoven to rap.

Back to the Hanna-Barbera vs Disney encounter. They took their idea for making cheap cartoons to Walt Disney and he rejected it saying that the American people have too much taste to accept such poor visual quality. They got some backing and made the Flintstones and showed Disney how much taste the American people have.

Michelangelo shouted to the pope in "The Agony and the Ecstasy" that he'd paint man in all his naked glory just as God made him. I wonder how many writers can get away with that with their publishers.

Art should come from artists. Artists should lead and build tastes.

Publishers make damn sure that's not possible.

You can't elect good art. It just doesn't work that way. The bottom line doesn't determine what art is.

I'm a strong believer in the free enterprise system. It works. It makes it possible for most of us to live better. But it's an economic idea, not an artistic one. Get it the hell out of art.

Back to Asparagus Pee