By Derek Strahan BA Cantab (Modern Languages, French & Spanish)



Firstly, let's explore how the Arts Organisation came into being. I don't need to remind you that, in the performing arts, it is the Arts Organisation which is the principle employer of artists; but the Arts Organisations of today are very different to those of yesterday. To provide a perspective, what follows now is a very brief survey of the evolution of employment prospects for the artist, in European culture, with some anecdotal digressions, and brief reminders of yesterday's art which is still sold in today's market places. This history shows that, previously, there was always a mix of organisations and individuals in the matter of providing artists with paid employment.

It also shows that there always was, and still is, an interaction between social and economic factors which influences the very nature of an artwork. Art for art's sake is a romantic notion dating from the 19th century. Trying to sustain this ideal in the absence of money leads to poverty, illness and premature death.

To illustrate the sometimes crass relationship between payment of money and content, let me cite the case of the writer Charles Dickens. The reason why Charles Dickens' novels are so long is because he wrote them as serials for magazines. Each chapter was an episode, he was paid per episode, so that's why there are so many chapters. You could say that Dickens pioneered the soap opera. And now, we skip backwards about three centuries, in search of the identical nexus - and you will, I hope, forgive me if I take my examples from music history, in which I take a particular interest.

For centuries the main employer was the Church, which, I'm sure you will agree, we can define as an organisation, and which required from its art employees works of religious content. With the Renaissance, secular art began to emerge as a result of patronage of artists by wealthy individuals, inevitably from the aristocracy. The Church, however, remained an important patron.

Not all composers were able to secure patronage from the aristocracy. Johann Sebastian Bach tried, which is why, for example, we have the Brandenburg Concertos, written for the Duke of Brandenburg, who did not give Bach a job, and who does not deserve to have his name branded on these works, since he left the manuscripts of the Concerti abandoned in a back drawer, where they languished for two centuries, until the Baroque revival in the 19th century, in which Mendelssohn played such an important part.

In previous eras composers were regarded as servants, along with performers: indeed there was not much distinction between the two, because composers were also performers and musical directors, in Germany , Kappelmeisters. The status of the composer was, in fact, not much better than that of a serf, a topic which is visited in detail in a an article at this website - "The Artist As Serf." The serf did not own the land he tilled. Are things very different today? Only since the introduction of laws of copyright at the Berne Convention of 1886, to which there have been numerous revisions. The US was not party to any multilateral convention until 1952. As we have noted, copyright laws are of minimal assistance to painters, who habitually sell their copyright with the painting.

Taking music again as a case study, the period of Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven is pertinent to our topic, since it was at the beginning of the 19th century that the composer-entrepreneur emerged, doing deals with publishers while also soliciting support both from the aristocracy and from the wealthy bourgeoisie.

Later in the 19th century we come to the case of Richard Wagner, who also survived on a combination of support from the wealthy bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. Considerations of art, politics, sex and money were of equal importance in Wagner's life, and were inextricably intertwined, particularly as he wrote the libretti for his own operas, and all of his preoccupations are evident in them.

These examples are explored in greater detail at the end of this article: "Composers Earning Money". Expanded versions of these topics are also available or in preparation - see "The Beethoven Files", "Was Wagner Jewish?" on this website.

The point of citing those examples, however briefly, is to demonstrate how varied were the forms of support which composers have enjoyed in past eras, and, through sound files, to hear reminders of the work which that support enabled the composers to produce. Although those works are still heard, the forms of support which made them possible no longer exist. Those kinds of person-to-person deals, with all their passion and eccentricity are no longer made.

Why not? It is perhaps precisely because of the socially anarchic and highly individualistic nature of these kinds of deals that, by the time we get to the 20th century, support of the individual creative artist has become politicised by invoking more severe standards of correctness. I'm referring to the rise and rise of the Committee.

Next >>


Part 1 - Biography
Part 1 - Preamble
Part 2 - Agenda
Part 2 - Arts Organisations - History
Part 3 - Rise of the Committee
Part 4 - Radical Proposition
1. Direct support?
2. Funding?
3. Funding bodies?
4. Bureaucrats?
5. Not empowered.
6 Statistics!
Part 5 - Loose Ends
The Medici Program
Part 6 - No Reasons
Part 7 - Summing Up
Part 8 - Composers earning money
J.S. Bach
Josef Haydn
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