Thursday, 9 February 2017

The commercial debate rumbles on...

So, it seems that people on the spoken word scene are still upset about the Nationwide adverts, and the Jeep advert, and presumably the jeans advert and the cheese adverts and the MacDonalds adverts all using poetry/ spoken word to sell product. This seems to be this season’s visit to Buckingham Palace*.

Just now pitching in: Luke Wright with a poem-to-camera in his car on the subject.

There appear to be two viewpoints contending for people’s hearts and minds here.

On the one hand: the notion that using art to promote commercialism is anathema and offensively soulless. The strong feeling that doing this diminishes the form and not only the individual artists involved but all practitioners of the artform.

On the other: the notion that most advertising (and ALL TV advertising) uses art in some way or other (from the music to the animations to the cinematography to the acting to the you-name-it). That art is intrinsically bound up in the commercial, because we live in a capitalist society and people need food to eat, clothe themselves, enjoy permanent shelter. Some selling-out or other is inevitable. There is always compromise.

So where do you draw the line? And that’s a genuine question, artists and non-artists alike: where should we be drawing the line to retain enough dignity (if that’s the word I want) and still pay the bills? Because there’s always someone paying for the art you produce, whether it’s you, your partner(s), your parent(s), your school, your workplace, direct individual customers, or the taxpayers whose money goes into national arts funding, or commercial organisations giving a fee.

Every time I write a poem for #PoetryToGo, I compromise my taste and vision for the requirements of the person holding the fiver (or whatever), whether it’s to rhyme, talk about fluffy bunnies, or turn it around in the timescale they’ve requested. On the other hand, I’d never write a poem for BP, or the Tories. About, yes; on their behalf, no.

What I’m saying, if I’m saying anything, is that there are financial realities and status frailties that drive people (some with more inner conflict than others) to produce art for corporate entities, but them doing so does not - in my opinion - diminish that artform’s ability to enlighten, transform, communicate, be an extraordinary mirror for the human condition. And it does not automatically diminish their previous work or the work they may choose to do in the future.

Luke has said that he hasn’t seen “much of a discussion around this on the live poetry scene” and that he wants to “spark a debate”. By contrast, this is something people seem to be talking about a LOT, in my experience - spoken word artists and their enablers alike. Let’s keep this going - is there a solution, a way of resolving this conflict at the heart of the scene, or are we always going to be divided on this (or merely strung out along the spectrum of NEVER to OF COURSE with a bunch of us in between, and most of us longing for the opportunity to at least be asked, because that might well mean we’ve “made it”)?


* A few years ago, a bunch of spoken word artists were invited to visit Buckingham Palace to visit the Queen. Most who were asked went, as far as I know. Some refused. EVERYONE - invited or otherwise - had an opinion.