The Rise of the Joyful Economy

Jason Potts, RMIT University

The relationship between the art world and the market economy has long been one of Sturm und Drang. Deep down, a battle of weltanschauung plays out between light and dark, sky and earth, imagination and rationality, between two different value systems that still must occupy the same physical, political and moral universe.

The great value of modern cultural economics is to have brokered a grand reconciliation between these worlds, with the analytic concepts of market failure and externalities in cultural production and consumption, and the application of non-market valuation techniques to, as it were, price the priceless. The result is a formula to transfer resources from the economy to the arts that is allocatively efficient, maximising the value of both.

And while the target of various grumblings from those who would prefer such decisions were determined more historically or politically, rather than economically, there is a rigorous beauty to this way of counting.

So it is an interesting development when a preeminent cultural economist (and economic sociologist) publishes a new book of broad historical sweep, arguing that the deep relationship between these two worlds (between the arts and the economy) is not what we have previously thought. The book was the subject of a special, standing-room-only panel at the recent International Conference of Cultural Economists.

The Rise of the Joyful Economy, Michael Hutter.
Routledge, 2015

Michael Hutter’s The Rise of the Joyful Economy (2015), which focuses on the visual arts, begins in 1420 with the development of linear perspective, and traces how that artistic development played out in the economy of the day, creating surprising new opportunities.

He then examines the paintings of conversations, of among others Joseph Wright, Francis Hayman and William Hogarth, and the way this focused a consumer revolution in the emergence of social taste. Moving into the 1950s and 1960s, Hutter traces the translation of artworks into experience goods through case studies of repetition in the modernist architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (the Seagram building) and in Andy Warhol’s Flowers series.

Later in the book he maps these artistic revolutions to three associated periods of economic growth: the period of exploiting cognitive illusion (1430-1860); the period of exploiting social relations (1730-1890); and the period of exploiting serial variations (1920s-present).

Hutter then runs the argument the other way, examining artistic responses to economic change. First in the “silent narratives of assertion” in merchant society in the paintings of Flemish artists Petrus Christus (Goldsmith in his Shop, 1449) and Pieter Aertsen (Meat Stall with the Holy family, 1551). Then in the painting of new consumer entertainment of Parisian artists Antoine Watteau (Shop Sign, 1720) and Édouard Manet (Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882). And thirdly in the intentional entanglements between high art and high commerce in, for example, Andreas Gursky’s digital photograph 99 Cent (1999) and in Takashi Murakami’s installation Vuitton Shop (2007).

These micro-sociological case studies in art history illustrate an overarching idea about the nature of the dynamics in the arts, culture, and the economy. The idea is to conceive of distinct arts and economic worlds, or “plays of value” as Hutter frames it, and to propose a general theory of change that arises from the clash between these worlds. This approach fundamentally recasts the relation between arts and economy by showing them to be statically distinct, but dynamically coupled.

Consider what this implies about the dynamics of both the arts world and the economy. In the standard account, growth and change originate from within each world, from the artist and from the entrepreneur respectively. The arts world and the economy are self-contained, linked only by brokered side payments (cultural policy) to generate efficient levels of output. That understanding, in which the different worlds are distinct, is part of the modern consensus and the grand reconciliation between the cultural sector and the market economy.

But if Hutter is right, then that understanding is wrong. If dynamics in each world originate from the clashes and irritations between each world (which Hutter both theorises and extensively documents) then we may need to rethink the basic relationships between economic and cultural policy.

Yet the book isn’t about policy – a third “play of value”, in Hutter’s terms. It’s about a new type of economy that he seeks to differentiate from such policy fashionable neologisms as knowledge economy, creative industries, or experience economy.

Joyful Economy argues for us to redirect our attention away from isolated industry sectors towards the dynamics of tension and resolution, created by interactions between different “logics of worth”.

The joy in The Joyful Economy is an answer to the brilliant but pessimistic Hungarian-American economist Tibor Scitovsky, who argued that a growing consumer economy that failed to nurture ever enhanced consumer sophistication in high quality experience goods would plunge society into, as he put it in the title of his 1976 book, a Joyless Economy.

Hutter does not fault the logic of Scitovsky’s diagnosis, but finds that Scitovsky failed to understand the deeper co-evolutionary dynamics at play. That difference matters because it is from those outworkings that the Joyful Economy emerges.

The Conversation

Jason Potts, Professor of Economics, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Not My Review: A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis (1961)

The link below is to a book review of ‘A Grief Observed,’ by C. S. Lewis.

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E-reading: Tablets or Ebook Readers?

The link below is to an article that takes a look at what is best for ebook reading, tablets or dedicated ebook readers?

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How should reading be taught in schools?

Misty Adoniou, University of Canberra

When my son was nine years old, he put aside the large Harry Potter novel he had been slowly, but enthusiastically, reading each evening and instead began ploughing through lots of fairly uninspiring books that he brought home from school each day.

It turned out the Year 4 teachers had devised a competition at his school – whichever class read the most books would be rewarded with an end of term pizza party.

The aim, I presume, was to motivate the children to read. It is ironic then that the effect was that my son stopped reading for pleasure and instead began reading for the numbers.

Reading is now increasingly being reduced to a numbers game in schools.

What level is your child at?

At pick up time, parents quiz each other about what reading level their child is on. Inside the school staff room, teachers are directed to have children on level 15, 20 or 30 by the end of the school year.

Six year olds are deciding whether they are good readers or not based on how many books they have ticked off on their take home reader sheet.

These levels are based on algorithms that calculate the ratio of syllables to sentences, or measure word frequency and sentence length.

The rationale is that these formulae can be applied to rank books on a scale of readability and thus guide teachers to match books with children’s reading ability.

There are two key problems with this numbers approach to reading. First, the algorithms are faulty. Second, publishers misuse them.

What makes a book hard or easy to read?

The missing variables in readability algorithms are the authors’ intentions, the readers’ motivations and the teachers’ instruction.

These are key omissions, and they seriously reduce the usability of the algorithms and the credibility of the reading levels they produce.

Fictional stories often use familiar and high frequency vocabulary, and many authors use relatively simple sentence structures.

However the use of literary tools like allegory and metaphor, along with challenging text themes, increases the difficulty of works of fiction in ways that are not captured in readability algorithms.

For example, readability formulae give Hemmingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” a reading level suitable for primary school students. They may be able to decode the words on the page but comprehension of the book is less likely.

The same formulae may rank a non-fiction book on dinosaurs, for example, as only suitable for high school students because of its uncommon vocabulary, lengthy sentences and multi-syllabic words.

Yet a child’s interest and familiarity with the topic, or a teacher or parent’s support and instruction, can make that non-fiction book very readable for younger children.

Reading schemes

As readability formulae are not always a good fit for books, the solution has been, instead, to write books which fit the formulae. And publishers have been very keen to supply those books.

These are the books that our children take home each evening. They are written according to the numbers – numbers of high frequency words, numbers of syllables, numbers of words in a sentence.

What is missing in those books is author intention and craft, reader engagement and interest, and teacher support and instruction.

Essentially, then, what is missing in these books is the very essence of reading.

What books should children read?

We have been using the reading scheme system for decades and we still have children struggling to read.

When we use these quasi books to teach reading, we are not adequately preparing them for real reading.

These books, written to fit algorithms, don’t build broad vocabularies in our children. They don’t teach our children how to read complex sentence structures or deal with literary language or read between the lines. In many cases, they turn children off reading altogether.

Children learn to read by reading a book that is a little beyond what they can already read. The gap between what they can read and what they could read is reduced when the child:

  • is highly motivated by the content of the book;
  • has existing background knowledge about that content;
  • is receiving good instruction from a teacher.

We don’t need books arranged in coloured boxes labelled with level numbers to teach a child to read.

Beautifully written pieces of children’s literature will do the job.

Books full of carefully crafted writing by authors whose intentions are to engage, entertain and inform.

Books that teachers can work with in the classroom showing how sounds work in words, and how words work in sentences to make us feel, see or think new things.

Beautiful books that parents can also buy and delight in reading with their children.

Why it matters

The way we teach children to read will fundamentally influence what they understand the purpose of reading to be.

When we teach children to read through schemes that tally their books, we teach them that reading is simply about quantity. If reading is about getting a reward of a pizza, then children are less likely to read for intrinsic rewards.

The claims made for well-written children’s literature are many and varied.

Reading books to your children brings you closer to them, can teach them philosophy and about world issues.

But they can do something else. They can teach our children to read.

The Conversation

Misty Adoniou, Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.