Why is it that some arts initiatives or disciplines tend toward commercial markets, others non-commercial? Some tend toward complex and durable nonprofit organizational forms and some toward episodic projects? Some are independent of major media companies and others deeply dependent? And how and why do some initiatives evolve from one dynamic to another over time — from a scrappy and episodic theater collective, for example, to full-on corporate, venue-owning not-for-profit (like Steppenwolf)?
I’m coming to believe that four essential constraints or dynamics define the likely path for an artistic endeavor, or at least the available choices for their full realization. As ever, I’m sharing these evolving constraints out loud to see what resonates:
The original or primary motivation behind the artistic endeavor. There will always be many motivations, but this speaks to the most pressing or most salient to the individual or collective. Is the driving force about a compulsion to create, a desire to be heard, an opportunity for challenge and community among a group of makers, financial outcomes, fame, credential, attention, and so on. Again, many of these may be in play, but what is the core or essence of the effort?
The complexity and scale required to realize the vision – including the cost, specialized workforce, specialized equipment or space, and the scope of the distribution demanded. The more complex, expensive, and extended the production requirements, the larger the needed systems, specialists, and resources.
The likelihood or expectation of the effort to generate revenue or equity above its cost recovery. This will define what kinds of finance or funding is available, how the endeavor will be sustained over time (all earned income or a mix of earned and contributed?), and which constellation of producers, presenters, and distributors will take an interest and invest their energy, resources, and time. Obviously, this relates directly to the animating purpose, since the creative individual or team may have goals that preclude or limit the potential net revenue or equity.
The initial status of the creative individuals or collective – their available resources, networks, influence, and power. Those with high status and significant resources will tend toward a different timeline and trajectory than those without. This doesn’t speak to talent or technical proficiency, just initial and immediate access to people, money, and stuff.
I’m suggesting that these four constraints will shape the formation and evolution of any artistic endeavor, and lead it toward a limited set of operating states (for-profit, not-for-profit, community, temporary, etc.). And here, I’m using “constraints” as defined by the complexity community: “Constraints shape a system by modifying its phase space (its range of possible actions) or the probability distribution (the likelihood) of events and movements within that space.”
Why might this matter? Because we often treat artistic disciplines or entity types as established conventions of practice, as received wisdom of how artistic initiatives should be done. But we rarely ask WHY the conventions, traditions, and standard practices of artistic efforts formed in the first place, or what problems their conventions were intended to solve. This becomes particularly important when the old solutions no longer yield healthy results, or when new forms of expression start to challenge the conventions.
Is this a useful and fruitful way to identify and define the driving forces at work? Let me know.