Wealth and creativity are a bit like oil and water. The image of the artist starving in his or her garret is indelible. But is it true?
Starving in your garret
You know that stereotype of the starving artist in a garret producing a masterpiece?
It appeals to starving artist types. It also appeals to comfortable well-off types who think that maybe if they were skinnier and hungrier they’d be creative too.
All I need to be the next Toulouse-Lautrec/Stevie Smith/[fill in name] is a garret!
Like many stereotypes there’s a grain of truth in it. But why?
You can find a philosophical and intellectually robust exposition of why wealth and creativity don’t mix in my novel Eternal Life.
What might a world look like where immortality was possible for the rich?
Why wealth and creativity can’t mix
Here’s a summary of 5 ways Eternal Life shows wealth and creativity can’t mix:
The rich aren’t more talented?
1. There is an old-fashioned right-wing argument that concentrating wealth in a few hands helps the world. Logic: wealth goes to the most talented. This idea surfaces in the classic, scary sci-fi novellas The Marching Morons and The Little Black Bag. The rich, supposedly, can use wealth most wisely because they are wisest. The hyper-capitalist world of Eternal Life demolishes that argument.
George Best and the meaning of life
2. It is human nature to display your wealth; not to spend it to better people’s lives. Why buy a watch that costs $50,000 when it tells the time no better than ones which cost $50? The most important thing for most people on earth is to persuade themselves that their existence has meaning. Sadly many of us are persuaded that the best way is conspicuous consumption “I display wealth, therefore I am“. Eternal Life takes this to extremes as the mega-rich compete to find ways to engage in ever more time-intensive leisure activities – including a whole subculture of standing in line waiting for London buses.
NB this does raise the question of what “bettering people’s lives” means. I like the quote attributed to the late great George Best – a fine example of a short but fantastically creative life: I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.
Famous people aren’t all smart
3. It is human nature to think that if you are wealthy you must somehow be worth that money. The rest of society can fall into the trap – eg by asking celebrities who are brilliant at acting, or appearing on reality TV shows, their views on current affairs. Of course there are glorious exceptions – eg the great work done by Angelina Jolie on preventing war zone violence against women.
What if creative types go off the boil?
4. There are millions of examples of artists who produce a masterpiece and then go off the boil. Sadly that includes many novelists whose first book (only) is wonderful. That’s why I worship writers like the awesome Michael Connelly, whose novels remain brilliant over the years. Eternal Life shows what happens when that principle applies to entire societies – including the US, the UK – and even Europe – once you have everything, how can you be motivated to achieve more?
Rich people want to stay rich
5. Most important – and most dangerous – history shows us that the primary focus of the rich will always be to keep hold of what they’ve got. Cleptocratic societies are glaring examples. But one can argue this applies to any society. Eternal Life shows what cataclysms can result when entrenched vested interests see their monopoly on power and wealth threatened – and just how far they will go to defend the status quo. It’s going to be bloody.
You can read more about some of these themes in my blog post: