Capitalism Suppresses Both Art and Artists


Cael Baumgarten, Copy Editor

Capitalism is an outdated and fundamentally broken system that feeds off the ashes of passion and culture and from that sustenance defecates homogeneity.

We as high schoolers have been time and time again faced with that ubiquitous question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If only it were that simple. This idea of “want” fades away when you factor in the variables that capitalism enforces; how much money does it make? Is the job market secure? Does it offer good benefits? If the answer is “no” to any one of these questions, many give up on the idea and move on. Who could blame them? In a world in which the most basic human right of life is cripplingly expensive, “wants” are not the top priority. 

On paper, this sounds acceptable. Of course not everybody gets everything they want, and I’m not saying they should. But if working 40+ hours a week for decades is a requirement for a stable and safe existence, is it really so much to ask that a citizen would have the job they want? The job that they enjoy and find satisfaction in? Is it so much to ask that we have the choice to do what we want with our lives without capitalistic repercussions? The word itself implies a flawed sense of priority: “capitalism.” As in “capital,” as in money, as in money is the most important thing in life and everything we do should be with the intent to make money. Even education has been tainted. Many students go to college to find higher employment and more money rather than finding knowledge and indulging upon interests.

But there are those who pursue their dream careers regardless of financial challenges. Some of them become actors on television, musicians on the radio, or comedians on a stage. Others are relegated to minimum wage jobs, tiny apartments, debt, and an increasingly heavy feeling of regret and anguish, and those that found that success become wealthier than any one of us could ever dream. Basically what I’m saying is that you either die a soundcloud rapper, or live long enough to become a Kendrick Lamar (or die young enough to become XXXTENTACION). Kendrick Lamar, making over $1 million a show, could easily pay for the salaries of so many young artists that are forced to give up on music entirely just to pay the costly price of life. And when that musical dream is squeezed of its vigor, the failed musician is forced to settle on another job, another fate, another finite life. We are so far entrenched into the current system that we simply accept this as a necessary side effect of a strong economy. But no amount of GDP for Walmart is worth the millions of human experiences soiled by needlessly inflated expenses on housing, education, medicine, and the many other bare necessities of life.

There are exceptions to the following rule: a capitalist free market economy inextricably hinders the progress of art. Remind yourself that art does not and should not exist for the sake of profit, though it appears that perhaps this is no longer the case. Historically speaking, the painters and playwrights and composers of the past were motivated in their various crafts by the desire to enrich the planet and further develop their respective cultures; to deliver their own respective messages in ways that typical communication cannot express. Da Vinci said that “art is the queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” Warhol said that “art is anything you can get away with.” Now before you comment “okay boomer,” let me assure you that I am not about to tell you that modern art sucks, or that modern music sucks or that modern cinema sucks (that’s a story for another day). We are not at a total cultural standstill; lots of creative people have gifted the public with beautiful works in the past decade. That being said, what knowledge is Ed Sheeran communicating to all generations of the world? When Illumination continues regurgitating low budget, superficial, uninspired, and ugly movies, what exactly are they “getting away with” other than a quick buck and polluting social media with equally uninspired memes? I notice a growing number of “art” that is produced with the sole intent of making money in recent years, enough examples to not be slightly upset about. While the situation is innocuous at the moment, the trend that we are approaching is alarming. If all artists are working towards the same end, money, then it only makes sense that they all might use similar means, and the result is a culture of homogeneity and commercialism that is aimed at whatever audience is the most lucrative. Take Marvel, for instance. I have no inherent issue with these movies, though I don’t think that anyone will argue that they aren’t a bit formulaic and repetitive. They come from the same company and producers, so it would only make sense that they might all look similar. The precedent that these movies set, however, is problematic; each and every one of them are a success with profits reaching the stratosphere, so why do away with that formula? A purely financial objective encourages and almost necessitates formulas, and no cinematic formula seems to be nearly as profitable as the one found in Marvel’s films. Look, too, to the infamous Michael Bay. His movies suck, we’re all in agreement, but they sell, and the quality means nothing in the face of that sweet paycheck. And because they sell, he makes more, and the movie industry becomes further saturated in his hackneyed fluff devoid of meaning and depth.

Understand that this problem is unique to capitalism. Greed exists inextricably within mankind, but capitalism encourages it, requires it for you to stay afloat and become the American ideal of success. And while of course any other economic system has its faults too, none so shamelessly award selfishness and applaud you in your pursuit of the root of all evil as does the one we have in the good ol’ US of A.