An economic lens on art

From an old interview of Tyler Cowen by Emily Moore:

Tyler Cowen: The economics of art is one good way to better find the art you will enjoy. For instance, I find I often like very popular art and very niche art, yet with some degree of allergy to what falls in between. What goes under the name “indie music” I usually find pretentious or just flat-out mediocre. I’d rather listen to Michael Jackson, or even Taylor Swift for that matter. That said, I’m even more game for some of the more obscure corners of Indian classical music or polyphonic Pygmy chants. I tend to be suspicious of “that which is aimed at being different”, perhaps because it too often caters to a feeling of superiority or trendiness and sidesteps its loyalty to a true artistic vision. Very popular art is often a more pure art in the aesthetic sense, even if some sides of it repulse us. I thought Titanic was a splendid movie, with all of its imperfections, but I like Béla Tarr too. I don’t know whether this same analysis is useful to artists who wish to stick with their personal visions, but it is telling them they will always face a trade-off, and they will always be somewhat unhappy with what the market rewards them for. Maybe they should simply get used to that idea and get on with things.

The essay referenced several times in the interview is “An Economic Theory of Avant-Garde and Popular Art, or High and Low Culture” (PDF). Perhaps we need to cut the NYMag Approval Matrix into thirds, with the middle layer, between the highbrow and lowbrow, as a danger zone of artistic mediocrity.

Among the footnotes in that essay, noted by Moore, is this: “The limited evidence collected indicates that the income of artists is low relative to their human capital.” I've always believed the same, explaining my deep ambivalence over friends who pirate content freely. One idea to subsidize art: income tax breaks for artists. Or perhaps artists should turn more to human-capital contracts, a way of making artists less sensitive to the wild income fluctuation inherent in the field, especially in an artist's early years.