The Morality of True Art

Beata Ratuszniak photo



Lisa Morris



The cultural idea that writers, artists, and musicians who work for “the joy of their art” alone (sans pay) are somehow truer, cooler artists than grubby artists who work for dirty money is actually based in old English elitist class wars. I’ll explain.


For a very long time, the only artists who had instant public support, gallery acceptance and respect were lower royals, noblemen or children of noblemen. This, in public eyes seemed beneficial in many ways – it helped maintain public respect for the nobles, because being highly educated they were (surely) of the most refined, modern and knowledgeable tastes, and their preferred art style and media would be mimicked by lower painters looking to make a sale on duplications. This would improve art in general in theory.


Also, when buying from a Lord, one could be sure you were buying something tasteful no matter how awful it actually was since style/sophistication in that era was sadly equivalent to what wealthy people were doing/wearing/loving. There was also the advantage of being able to brag on the social status of the painter/writer when showing friends a newly purchased piece. It also made a painting or book seem more valuable, because it came from a wealthy home, and a rich person took time with it.


Now, in truth, nobles were often bored stiff, and had money to pay for years of lessons from truly genius artists, musicians and tutors of their era. Some of the greatest painters in history had to work a side job as tutors to the wealthy to support themselves and their private art. Sometimes too this would lead to a patronage, which opened the doors for these incredible artists to be seen, because they had wealth/nobility’s stamp of approval.


Meanwhile, the wealthy often worked their arts out of boredom and donated it to support charity causes, asking for no money, because they already had money. Yet, they were typically in the highest place in galleries, because the galleries hoped for patronage from these nobles.


Folk painters often lacked comparable skill, having no money or time for training, just gut talent, unless they happened to be born a rare genius. So, this naturally led to the public assumption that people who wrote/performed/painted for pay were clearly lower class and probably less skillful than (often absolutely horrible) “gentlefolk.” This way of thinking still haunts us today despite its utter irrelevance due to changes in education in the last 100 years.


Painting, writing, composition, performing, singing, sculpting or working any art form for “passion” alone is certainly doable when you have endless inherited wealth and time. This is not the case with most highly trained artists of our era! They’re outstanding, have usually dropped many thousands on years of excellent training, and certainly deserve pay and respect for their skill.


If history teaches us anything, the artists of every era should be treated highly as professionals who invest hours, days, months and years into art, because the quality of the art of an era or culture always defines a culture after it falls, and too, while it lives. These creators shouldn’t have to explain that they actually do need to eat, and that money is necessary to life. Art is work! So much work.


Which brings me to my final point – even in this era, even in the leveling United States and modern Britain, the artists people most respect, however awful they actually are, are almost always chosen by wealthy patrons. If you study history, you’ll see a long, long list of silly, harmful and ridiculous things/behaviors/activities the wealthy considered “sophisticated” over time, which the lower classes imitates, making whole countries choose to dress ridiculously, poison themselves with lead makeup on their faces, wear gowns that were fire hazards and led to death, squeeze women into corsets that mutilated their bones, eat disgusting “exotic” foods, put belladonna poison in their eyes, and accept a torture-culture of adultery and wife-pimping as sexy and cool. Our era has its own horrible “sophistications.”


If you choose to rely on the wealthy of the world to define your own art tastes as though that makes you more sophisticated, that’s a deliberate choice. I think insecure people like to feel they’re being “refined” purchasing expensive art for the same old archaic reasons. There are so many things plainly wrong with these dusty ideas, and it’s time they go.


I collect art, and I buy what I love. When I’m out of the country I find several pieces of art I love, no matter how poor the gallery or stall is, and buy it to bring home. These things I’ve collected are displayed in my home, and they bring me delight every day with their beauty.


Buy the beautiful art that connects with your soul without considering the public eye, “sophistication,” low price, or antique ways of thinking about the wealthy as your all-knowing-and-refined masters, and true art will rise again in your hands, blessing all the world.





Lisa Morris

Lisa Morris is a freeverse and formalist poet, nature explorer, artist and traveler. Formerly an agent for authors, she is now author of two books, “Your Love is Inconvenient and Sublime” available on Kindle, and “The Sorcerer and Other Poems” available through Rainfall Books. Lisa is married to surrealist Cliff Snell III.

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