A Theory of Innovation in the Arts

Contains profanity

Heh! Another one of those grandiose titles; I rather like 'em. Next in this series: "A Theory of Time". Really.

Before we get started, a short paragraph on blogging. I often have ideas for blogposts - and then completely forget about them. It's not as though they're gone, they're just hanging around back there. And then I read something, am reminded about the topic and write the stuff down. Writing the ideas down is good because it clarifies your thinking. For example, for this post I had to think about what my actual dependent variable is - always a good question to answer.

An example of the being-reminded phenomenon is that both Tyler Cowen and Andrew Gelman link to an article about the economist David Galenson, who studies art.

From the article:

Michael Rushton, who teaches the economics of art at Indiana University, said that Mr. Galenson was on to something; in science or art, he said, “innovation really requires a market.”
As pointed out by Andrew Gelman in more polite terms, that's complete bollocks. That even holds if you use a wide definition of markets, which includes such things as "the marriage market" or "the market for attention". But I think there is indeed a relationship between innovation in the arts and the market. It's a pretty economic theory, but I'll start with a psychological assumption:

H1: The more one is interested in a form of art, the more one values originality.

Most people don't value originality very much. They want same-old, same-old. Sure, if someone wrote a novel that consisted of exactly the same string of words as Moby-Dick, that would be of no value. But most consumers of art want it to stay within the limits of the form, while conoisseurs are more likely to say something like: "Boring! Sounds just like Nirvana."

H2: The more the artist is economically dependent on the piece of art to be liked by many people, the less innovation one will see.

The best contrast here is painting vs. film. You can only sell a painting once, so you should cater to the connoisseur market, but to regain the costs for a film, you need many people to like it.

H3: The more expensive it is to create a piece of art, the less innovation one will see.

Writing a poem is cheap. Making a film is expensive. Which brings us to:

H4: If there are gatekeepers who control the financial resources that are needed to produce the work of art and these see themselves mainly as entrepreneurs, this reduces the chances of innovation.

Film vs. painting is again a good example.

H5: The higher the number of people that are involved in the creation of a piece of art, the less innovation one will see.

Film comes to mind once again. Even if the director has this very innovative vision, the people responsible for sound, light, etc. will tend to do things the usual way.

An interesting aspect with respect to H2 are subsidies. The hypothesis predicts that in unsubsidized theatres, productions will be done mainly for the customer (uninnovative), whereas in heavily subsidized theatres, the productions will be done mainly for critics and colleagues (innovative). In my experience that's true.

No comments: