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The Privilege of Art

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 4, 2021

Yesterday Greece's most iconic and proliferate composer, Mikis Theodorakis, passed away at the age of 96. He was a symbol for social activism and human rights. He was in the Greek resistance in 1943 as a teen, then in the anti-junta fight, he was tortured, exiled, prosecuted, and still created music that resonated internationally and was sung by some of the most renowned international singers of our time, from Edith Piaf to Joan Baez to the Beatles.

To give you an idea of how his music reached the entire world, you have heard of it. The classic tune associated with Greece, the Zorba the Greek dance, was composed by him. And so was the theme and soundtrack to Serpico and several other hollywood productions.

Needless to say I grew up with his music, imbued with his fighting spirit, and even though he was at a ripe old age it hurt that he died. And it got me thinking about what he did for Greece and for art- and naturally, my thoughts went to gatekeeping.

Because one of the biggest contributions of Mikis Theodorakis was that he tore down the strict, elitist gatekeeping of art that was upheld by the establishment of the 30s, 40s and 50s in Greece: he made Nobel-awarded poems into songs. Songs that were sung by the working class, in the factories and construction sites. Poetry at its finest which would normally be taught only in the closed circles of the intelligentsia and would be unknown to people who couldn't afford to go to school and perhaps couldn't even read or write very well, became those people's beloved entertainment and means of expression.

All thanks to Mikis Theodorakis…. and his choice to make these poems into popular songs enraged the ‘cultivated’ and the ‘civilized’. “How dare he sully the cream of hellenic and world poetry with the sounds of the bouzouki or the guitar or piano?” they raged and fought hard to stop him from doing so.

They failed, of course, since the poets were more than glad to offer their poems but I thought to share this anecdote with you to further the discussion of gatekeeping that Em started so well yesterday.

Art has always been a bone of contention in terms of gatekeepers. There were always attempts to restrict access to it and, if that was impossible, to diminish the value of the art that was readily available to the populace.


There are many theories as to why that is, but I tend to think it's often because art and the capacity to consume art is considered a status symbol; something that should be available to the few or controlled by the few.

If you want to take it further, through a prism of class struggle, art is a means of expression but also discourse and political stimulation. Through art a lot of movements were propagated and gained momentum. To allow art to be freely available or uncontrolled in its thematology or who gets to make it is to lose control of a narrative that gatekeepers like to control.

As early as Ancient Egypt, even earlier, art was used as a means of propaganda and political statements. It's not really any different today. Whoever controls mainstream art often controls the narrative on lifestyle, ethics, goals, and even daily routine.

When Mikis Theodorakis broke that gate to art that was being kept from the people, movements for equality, human rights, and anti-totalitarianism grew so strong that not even a Junta could withstand them.

Why wouldn't the intelligentsia of today (such as it is internationally) want to fight to keep the gates up in all forms of art, including webcomics?

Sorry if this was a little too meandering and a little too speculative. But still, I'm glad to have shared :)

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EssayBee at 4:53AM, Sept. 8, 2021

I remember reading (or might've been on NPR) a story about how the super-rich pay huge sums for new art, and the value of art is determined literally by how much people pay and not for any "true" artistic value. So the super-rich to this day remain gatekeepers, and the value of art (and an artist) isn't determined so much by any kind of skill or thought by simply by how much this rich person shelled out for it. And the super-rich shell out huge sums for something just so they can tell people how much they paid for it. Sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy: "This piece is worth $350,000 because I paid $350,000 for it."

PaulEberhardt at 9:36AM, Sept. 7, 2021

I think many people secretly like being part of an exclusive circle. They invested some effort in understanding the finer points of certain art forms and therefore feel entitled to show that they're something special. I don't even blame them, actually. I like being something special, too - I've just got better reasons for it. ;)

hushicho at 8:12PM, Sept. 5, 2021

PREACH. Sorry for being late in commenting on this, but I agree so strongly with what you've said here! It is always worth considering.

marcorossi at 3:18PM, Sept. 4, 2021

I think that in many forms of art there is a sort of snobbery where some things are considered serious art and other not, though some times I'm also a bit pissed off from extremely commercial stuff (that I see as the opposite end of the spectrum). It is a bit difficult to avoid both extremes, but I think that both come from the fact that we identify a lot with the art we consume, so that this creates subcultures that are big parts of our identity. From this point of view, snobbery is not different from being part of a fandom, just a very lucky fandom that happens to be socially dominant. But on the other hand I think there is something like an objective artistic value, just it is very difficult to pinpoint it because it is expressed through very different cultural perspectives, even inside the same culture.

Furwerk studio at 2:48PM, Sept. 4, 2021

My guess after meeting so many gatekeepers? It's because they want to feel special, that they are an elite group that only they can be apart of. Basically, snobbery at its finest.

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