Artists — at least those who expect to make a living at it — need patrons of some sort. From the dukes, kings and popes of centuries past to the many individual buyers and collectors of today, someone has to pay the bills that allow the artist or writer to do his thing. Typically these days, patrons as great as the creators of foundations and as small as the person who buys a single copy of a new book are engaged in the world of business — as Coolidge noted, the chief business of the American people is business,” and that hasn’t changed in the decades that have followed. It’s business that has allowed people to have the disposable income to buy books — or to fund museums, or run publishing companies large and small. The age of mass media (including the popular press) is also the age of big business.
Of course, since Rousseau, it has been fashionable to treat one’s hosts with disrespect, and these days that’s manifested in the denigration of business, from corporate culture to tales of the moral corruption of bosses and employees alike. To succeed in business, we’re told, one must surrender morality altogether; to do otherwise is to accept a Silas Lapham-esque financial devastation. Likewise, from Theodore Dreiser to Sinclair Lewis, from Von Stroheim’s Greed to seemingly any episode of Law and Order, people in business are depicted as soulless drones or soulless exploiters. This is a defining characteristic of the BoBo — and has itself become as banal as whatever American Beauty suburbia they affect to despise.
Algis Valiunas offers an interesting look at the portrayal of business and businesspeople in American literature, and finds a positive portrayal in what one might think an unlikely place. Give it a read.
H/T: Arts & Letters Daily