What would the world of artistic endeavor be like without money?

Here’s something that’s debated about all the time in debates about intellectual property. IP is a debate in of itself, but I wanted to focus on this particular aspect.

What would the artistic scene (include theatre, writing, and non-visual media) be like if there were no (or much less) money involved? If all artistic IP law were to disappear tomorrow, how would the artistic world be affected, and to what extent? What if IP law never existed at all?

(These may be three completely different questions, but I think you get my drift… I want to see this from all angles.)

There would be a lot less of it, and it wouldn’t be as good. If people didn’t get paid for their art, they’d have less incentive to create it, and even less to put in the amount of time it takes to practice to get good at it.

Would you go to work every day for free?

The only real debate I’ve heard about IP is how long things like copyright should last.

There would be a lot less art being produced and it would likely be of lower quality. Those who can’t make a living on producing art will spend their time doing something else so that they can eat. Publishing a book cost money and takes time; why would anyone bother shelling out the bucks to produce a book if someone else could produce the same thing and undercut them?


There’s not exactly a lot of money involved in the fine arts as it is, so I can’t see how this have much of an effect. What would go away would be big-budget mainstream art – the studio bands, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy movies, the broadway shows, the television shows. This stuff is a relatively small amount of the art that’s produced in the world, and it’s often artistically inferior to lower-budget art (although that could be a whole other debate.) But it has a huge audience. So overall, probably not much impact to the artistic world, but a big reduction in the amount of creative works that the majority of people are exposed to on a regular basis.

For this one, we could look at countries with weak IP laws – China, for example. I’ll admit up front, I don’t know a lot about the artistic scene in China. But I would speculate that this would have a more dire impact. Not only could somebody reproduce and sell your work, they could alter and claim credit for it – it wouldn’t create much incentive to release your works. Performance arts would probably be all that survived, and even those would suffer from a lack of new material to perform, since composers, choreographers, and playwrights wouldn’t have the benefit of IP protection.

I think you’re asking two different questions; what would artistic creation be like if there were no money in that particular field and what would it be like if there were no money at all?

In the former case, you’d have less art. If nobody could earn any money from art, all artists would have to have a day job and produce art as a hobby. Some artists would choose not to and some artists would not have the opportunity to produce art under those circumstances. And many artists would have less time and resources to devote to art production.

In the latter case, you’d probably have more art. If you had some kind of socialist utopia where everybody got a free check every week and didn’t have to work for a living, many people would probably choose not to work their existing jobs and devote more time to their hobbies. And art production is a popular hobby.

If solely IP income was excluded, then I fully agree with jools - cynical commercial products would disappear, but a lot of other stuff would remain the same. People who wanted an original painting would still pay an artist. People who wanted live music would still pay musicians.

As for if all income were to disappear entirely, I’m having a hard time visualising it! I don’t see that it could happen without a fundamental change to the whole of society, removing economic structures as we know them.

Live theatre has been around a lot longer than IP laws. Actually, of the “big budget” stuff, live theatre would survive much better than movies or TV. It’s like original art, you can’t just pop out 100 copies of a broadway show around the country without having tons of talented people, anyone with a DVD recorder can pop out 10,000 perfect copies of the LotR trilogy. There’s no copyright on Shakespeare, and many other shows charge only a nominal fee, but we all know the good versions of these plays from the crappy ones. A community theatre production of Henry V won’t sap any market share from Lincoln Center’s highly acclaimed production of the same work.

Actually, live theatre (music too) might get a boost, because top performers will gravitate to that mode, it would be the only place that you could get paid. If a movie/TV show can be copied and distributed freely, there will be very little money to be made there, and very little money available for the actors/crew.

I’d say that widely distributable media will take a nosedive in quantity and quality of production. Undistributable media, live performance, original art will get a boost from where they are today, as talented performers/artists go there from the other media.

That’s why this is tricky - the OP asked two very different questions. I totally agree, this is what would happen if IP were removed from art. Performance art would probably be minimally affected. In addition, there’s plenty of money in the art industry that’s indirectly associated with the actual output of artists – supplies, instruments, instruction, etc. That part of the art scene would likely go on in some form as well.

The other question the OP asked is what would happen if all the money were to somehow completely vanish from the artistic scene. GorillaMan is totally right about that – it’s hard to imagine how that would happen without society radically changing. If that were to happen somehow, then a lot of art produced by individuals – that requires talent, effort, and a relatively modest financial investment – would be unaffected. That stuff isn’t exactly raking in the big bux today anyway. But anything that required a big investment – the millions of dollars to produce a movie or stage a broadway show, or even the thousands of dollars to produce a local theatrical production – would probably all but vanish.

I agree with the other posters who state that live performances would be largely unaffeteced without IP. In fact, I would argue that they would have a huge boost. There’s two ways to look at it, 1) no IP laws had ever existed; 2) IP laws cease to exist right now:

  1. We would have a few great composers and authors, a ton of mimicks, a lot of failures and simply not a whole lot of material. As others have posted, people who need to eat will do so first, create art second. Those that do survive will form some sort of guild or corporation of artists to pool resources.

There would be a lot less variety and not much incentive to try anything new. I suspect that a lot of work will be derived on what actually happened in history than complete works of fiction. Gods and religious themes would probably be the closest thing to sci fi. Dominant works will probably center on current events and the classics will largely center on the big news events of the past (assasinations, impeachments, political murders, etc.)

I assume that there will be a lot more commentary, paraody, critique, too, because that seems to be the best way for authors to distinguish themselves, i.e. selling their “voice/outlook.” People will directly pay for their artistic work. Societal strata will develop like in the Rennaissance (sp?). Awards, if any, would probably be awarded on the same criteria, just that people wouldn’t pay as much attention to it, because with the lack of funds, they wouldn’t be as lavish.

I also suspect some sort of natural Trademark will develop for two main reasons: 1) so that the author can at least make some attempts to stymie the copiers and give an easy symbol to recognize his “brand;” and, 2) so that the public which seeks the authors work can identify it more easily. Granted, this mark will not be enforceable in the courts, or it might, just on traditional notions of theft rather than infringement. The market for goods/services using the brand will be many orders of magnitude weaker compared to the live performances.

Cities will develop around artistic centers and for once people can truthfully say that they are there for the culture, instead of having convenient places to drink (first) and eat (second). Rents, traffic, congestion, etc. will remain largely unaffected. Actually, rents may increase because rather than rent as an apartment, the land would transformed to a stage/theater (this is assuming that societal preference is for live shows).

To some extent, any technology for entertainment would have taken much, much longer to develop or may have never developed at all, unless it has a military application. Personal PCs probably would have never developed. (I don’t know much about the history of technology.) However, once technology developed to the level that we have now, I think most creativity, except for live performances would come to a screeching halt, see my next point for further expounding.

All this could change if there were still IP laws for medicines, technology, industrial applications, etc. Then, the artistic community would eventually rally together to voice some sort of recognition of those laws as they apply to artistic arts. I have a feeling that they would probably end up to where we are now, hard to say, really.

  1. I agree with Jools that China would be good example of what it would be like with weak IP laws. Eventually, there would be massive market chaos. RIAA and any large, bloated, inefficient industry will most likely fail. Payment models will change drastically, and I suspect a lot of artists will have to go around and secure funding/captial themselves. There will be no concept of the starving artist, just artists (few) and the starving/lazy (large). The latter will eventually have to get some type of job.

I suspect a lot of manufacturing/low skilled labor will return to the US and drive wages down in the short term. They will compete with the illegal alien workforce, and I suspect border/immigration will be more highly scrutinized. Someone will actually want that $5/hr bagger job. I suspect that their might be increased support for more/increased level of social welfare, and therefor, higher taxes. Unsure about the long term, as the US population can change quickly. Many of the technical schools will be out of business, and may even resort to a trade/guild system.

Existing popular work will be traded with reckless abandon. As newer generations get used to everything being for free. Prices would probably go up as producers with capital at risk would need to get in and out the market quickly before trading happens. There may be a few nobler people out there who would buy outright rather than trade for free. I’m sure some sort of status will develop ala the Rennaissance where it will be a symbol of wealth to be able to afford your own entertainment. Live performances, again, will be largely unaffected, and will probably see an increase in demand. First run movies will be in high demand, if they are still being made at all.

Filming/photography will probably be switched over to digital media, as long term it is just much easier and less costly to produce. There will be more incentive to create anti-piracy technology, and big bucks to whoever can invent it. I don’t see a future for unions of any type as their ability to drive up costs will make them highly unfavored.

At to a world without any money towards artistic endeavors: it’s up in the air, really. Seriously, society will largely be communistic, or there would be barter everywhere. Money would have to develop, or there’s a good possibility be would still be not far from the stone age. I have to run, I may expound latter.

At a modest tangent from the OP’s actual question, but art flourished before money was invented.

Yeah, but it really flourished when cash got involved. Look at the Reneissance (any of them) - is it a coincidence that there was such an explosion in the art scene just when European society became more urban, and when the economy started to shift from purely agricultural to commercial/industrial? Michaelangelo and Da Vinci made very good money for their work, money that wouldn’t have been available a century earlier.

“High” art flourishes wherever there are rich people with disposable income.

It would definately cut down on the “sell-outs” in the arts. :wink:

The Renaissance saw an exceptional and unique level of artistic innovation and output. To say this was simply because of money being available doesn’t explain it, because this fails to account for other wealthy locations and eras not also having this massive artistic movement.