EDITORIAL: Business sense meets artistic sensibility

EDITORIAL: Business sense meets artistic sensibility - Art and money have been uneasy bedfellows over the millennia. You cannot have one without the other, but creative purists have traditionally argued that art is sullied and reduced in its worth by any contact with grubby Mammon. Having said this, it's amusing that when you get a room full of playwrights, novelists or painters together, all they do is complain about the meanness of their advance and how they're being robbed by their agent, rather than discussing how they might persuade the Muse to descend on them.

by Matthew Gwyther, Editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Art and money have been uneasy bedfellows over the millennia. You cannot have one without the other, but creative purists have traditionally argued that art is sullied and reduced in its worth by any contact with grubby Mammon. Having said this, it's amusing that when you get a room full of playwrights, novelists or painters together, all they do is complain about the meanness of their advance and how they're being robbed by their agent, rather than discussing how they might persuade the Muse to descend on them.

This month we bring the debate up to date with a look at how the relationship is changing. We illustrate the feature with a reworking of the world's most famous painting of a married couple - The Arnolfini Wedding by the Flemish master Jan van Eyck, in London's National Gallery. The message is that these days commerce and art are moving ever closer. The arts continue to seek financial support from business, but their interaction has become a far subtler, symbiotic engagement in which each side has much to learn from the other.

As the author of the article David Butcher writes: 'Fewer businesses these days see the old-fashioned sponsorship model of swapping a large cheque for a small logo as sensible.' Robin Wight, the chairman of Arts and Business, which acts as a matchmaker for companies and arts organisations, describes the arts as 'a secret weapon for a businessmen'.

Our cover feature is a rare interview with the head of Penguin books, John Makinson. Penguin has a long and glorious history of bringing cheap, good-quality literature to a wider audience since 1935. It now turns over almost pounds 1 billion. Along the way, the organisation published the famous Classics, the first unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterly's Lover and more recently Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses.

George Orwell was equivocal about Penguin when its founders set out on their mission, although I'm sure the beneficiaries of his estate are more muted in their protests. 'In my capacity as a reader I applaud the Penguin Books; in my capacity as a writer I pronounce them anathema,' he wrote, '... if other publishers follow suit, the result may be a flood of cheap reprints which will cripple the lending libraries and check the output of new novels. This would be a fine thing for literature, but it would be a very bad thing for trade, and when you have to choose between art and money - well, finish it for yourself.'

His fears proved unfounded. Far from being destructive, Penguin's success has been a good thing for authors, publishers and readers alike. Which only goes to show that sometimes you don't have to choose between art and money. You can have both living in mutually beneficial harmony.

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