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Bewildering Stories

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Wherever There’s Money...

“Wherever there’s money, there are people trying to get their hands on it.” — Bewildering Stories motto

[Gary Inbinder] You can throw a plate of spaghetti at a wall and call it “art.” I call it a mess. But I suppose if enough people are willing to call it art, it becomes “art,” even more so if some folks are willing to pay for it. ;-)

[Don Webb] You may have a point there, Gary. In art, as with anything else, do we get what we pay for? Given an indefinite amount of money, I’d buy some art — if that’s what it is — but not others. And other people will buy what I won’t.

Viewed in that light, does each Review Board member’s vote represent what each story or poem, etc. is “worth”? Only for that member, and only in a manner of speaking.

Consider the Review Board as a kind of collective auction: each vote is a “bid,” namely how much each voter is willing to “spend” to “buy” the work. In the aggregate, the average and denominations of all “bids” determine whether BwS “buys” the work — virtually speaking — for display in the Quarterly Review.

At this point, manipulators’ wheels begin to turn. Is it possible to corner or rig the market? At a stretch, possibly, but at BwS it’s a mug’s game, because the currency is virtual and its value is not absolute; it’s pegged to the quarterly average of all “bids.”

[Gary I.] Supply and demand in the art market is a fascinating subject, particularly the collaboration among artists, critics, dealers and collectors to profit from a created demand for a particular body of work.

Zola wrote about this form of market manipulation, comparing it to the stock market, in his 1886 novel L’Œuvre (The Masterpiece) and I picked up on the subject in my novel, The Flower to the Painter, set in roughly the same period and milieu Zola lived in and wrote about.

[Don W.] In L’Œuvre, Zola seems to have done for the commodities market in art what he did for politics in Son Excellence Eugène Rougon. In both cases, the moral can be summed up as: c’est cochon et compagnie (it’s Pig & Co.).

It’s all about the middleman. What about the artist? We can quote another BwS motto, which you’ve provided, Gary:

“Writing books, unless one be a great genius — and even then! — is the last road to fortune.” — Henry James, The Aspern Papers

And, Gary, thanks for the quote from Zola. It depicts Naudet, a crass art dealer. But I have a Challenge question: Who is really “crass” in Zola’s account: Naudet or his customers?

The famous Naudet had the appearance of a nobleman, with a fancy-pattern jacket, a diamond pin in his scarf, and patent-leather boots; he was well pomaded and brushed, and lived in fine style, with a livery-stable carriage by the month, a stall at the opera, and his particular table at Bignon’s. And he showed himself wherever it was the correct thing to be seen. For the rest, he was a speculator, a Stock Exchange gambler, not caring one single rap about art. But he unfailingly scented success, he guessed what artist ought to be properly started, not the one who seemed likely to develop the genius of a great painter, furnishing food for discussion, but the one whose deceptive talent, set off by a pretended display of audacity, would command a premium in the market. And that was the way in which he revolutionised that market, giving the amateur of taste the cold shoulder, and only treating with the moneyed amateur, who knew nothing about art, but who bought a picture as he might buy a share at the Stock Exchange, either from vanity or with the hope that it would rise in value.

— Émile Zola, His Masterpiece. Kindle, pp. 153-154

A vocabulary note: amateur can have the same meaning as in English, namely one who does not play for money. Zola uses the word in its broader sense. Thus “the amateur of taste” is one who loves art; the “moneyed amateur” is one who loves money.

And from your own novel — again, thanks, Gary:

I thought it hypocritical to overlook the commercial aspect. People profited from the collection, exhibition, and all round commercial exploitation of art, and if the market place had its profit motive, so did the church and the state. As for the artists, we deserved our fair share of the material rewards, the hard-earned compensation for our labor. In my opinion any artist who said, “I live for my art and spurn all material things,” was a liar, a hypocrite or a damned fool and I thought less of such a person than those who admitted that they worked for fame and fortune.

— Gary Inbinder, The Flower to the Painter. Fireship Press (Kindle Locations 4278-4283)

And that brings us to another BwS motto:

You can write for money or you can say what you think; you can’t have it both ways. — after Mt 6:24

Art is collectible; it has no end use beyond itself. True, it may be treated as though it were a commodity; for example, a book or painting may be bartered for something else. But at that point it becomes — like any other object — a medium of exchange, namely another form of money.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has inscribed in law a literal interpretation of the proverb “Money talks” by holding that money is speech. The decision defies all logic, and when logic fails, motives must be questioned. But whatever the Court’s ulterior motives may have been, writers may now ask, “If money is speech, how come my words aren’t money?”

Zola’s Naudet sees very clearly that money is power. He is mercenary but not stupid: he converts art into money but does not confuse money with art or speech or with anything else.

Zola says of the hero of L’Œuvre,, the painter Claude Lantier, in whom Paul Cézanne fancied an image of himself:

Avec Claude Lantier, je veux peindre la lutte de l’artiste contre la nature, l’effort de la création dans l’œuvre d’art, effort de sang et de larmes pour donner sa chair, faire de la vie : toujours en bataille avec le vrai, et toujours vaincu, la lutte contre l’ange. With Claude Lantier, I want to depict the artist’s struggle with nature, the effort of creation in the work of art, an effort of blood and tears, to give of his flesh and create life: always battling with what is true and always defeated, a struggle with the angel.

For Zola, the artist must engage in a struggle of practically Biblical proportions, one that is as significant for Zola, in his own way, as Jacob’s wrestling with the angel (Gen 32:24 et seq.). Come morning, at the end of the match, Jacob asks for a blessing. The angel gives him not money but a name and meaning. What more could anyone want?

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