R - E - S - P - E - C - T

Children often get to the heart of a matter with spectacular efficiency. They just speak the truth in plain language and in doing so cut through mountains of bullpucky (I’m starving the swear jar) like a hot knife through butter. My 12-year-old daughter Tasha did this tonight when, in the context of a discussion about paying musicians fairly for their recorded material, she said “Why would I pay for music when I can listen to it for free whenever I want?” Why, indeed?


A little background: tomorrow night is my older daughter Catia’s back to school night, and we were talking at dinner about how last year her humanities teacher wrote a statement on the board and videotaped (to show the kids the next day) parents employing the Socratic method to debate its veracity. The statement read: “Americans value and show respect for the arts in our culture.” My first (cynical) reaction: yeah, no. We do not truly value the arts in our culture. But after a minute or two of consideration, my stance became even more extreme: we show how little we respect the arts every day in every way. Consider two fundamental ways we show respect and recognize value in our culture: education and remuneration. What’s the first thing we cut when public schools are squeezed for cash? The arts. Music. Visual art. Dance. These are deemed “non-essential,” because ultimately Americans don’t consider them important, we don’t value them in our culture. Never mind that every civilization since the dawn of recorded history has left its mark on this earth through artistic expression; all those cave paintings, pottery shards, and stone sculptures didn’t just fall from the sky. Art is all that’s left; art communicates the essence of who they were and how they wanted to be remembered. We, as a culture, show how little we value the arts by getting rid of arts education: we like the idea of the arts, but when the rubber meets the road and money is tight, we throw the arts under the bus before you can say “Bob’s your uncle.”


And as for remuneration: would you ever in a million years go to an accountant for tax preparation and expect her to render her services for nothing? Do you ask a lawyer to post his expert legal opinion online – for free – so that you can dip in at will without payment? Do you expect your doctor to treat your (insert ailment here) out of the goodness of her heart? You do not. Yet otherwise rational businesspeople ask musicians to work for nothing (or next to nothing) all the time (you'll get exposure!). One might argue that doctors or lawyers go to school for years to become competent at what they do. But that argument implies that musicians, sculptors, writers, painters are untrained fools who haven’t spent years and years perfecting their craft, which of course they have. You see my point: it’s a question of value and respect: we don’t pay for the arts (value); we don’t teach the arts in schools (respect). So Tasha can be forgiven for speaking the truth from her 7th grade vantage point: why would I pay for something that has no value? If it had value, I wouldn’t be getting it for nothing, right? Unless and until we show that we value artists in our culture by according them the kind of (monetary) respect they deserve, the next generations will receive the message our culture is sending - loud and clear.