A friend popped up the question: "Is it necessary that an artist must be poor, so poor that he does not even know where his next meal is coming from, to create great art?"
It is, undoubtedly, a profound question.
Actually, hiding behind a lot of flesh and fat, it is a marxist quest, an issue of dielectics.
It basically says: Are matter (food/resources:thesis) and aesthetics (art: anti-thesis) compatible (systhesis)? Can they go hand in hand? Is their synthesis possible? Will the existence of one weaken the soul of the other?
A Marxist would say that creating great art in the capitalist system is not possible. He simply would not take it as a great art. But, under the socialist system, he would argue, creation of true art is easily possible. The artist no more faces the dilemma.
In the marxist utopia, the perfect human being will be able to creat great art as well as a great piece of furniture.
Marxism is gone for now. So this angle is obsolete for discussion.
The other aspect of the issue is art, and great art. Who makes the difference between the two? Who are the judges? Who appoints them?
The Nobel Committe? The Booker Prize Judges?
I know only two things: art and kitsch.
And I am my own judge when it comes to art.
Back to the polemic. Personally, I don't think one need to be poor in order to create art, great or ordinary. Writing and art have mostly been the preserve of the rich and the endowed. Like romance, writing is the privilege of the rich, and not the profession of the unemployed and the poor.
Poor people also take to writing. Most fail. It needs perseverance. It is hard work. And those who start poor and succeed, become rich. Then they shouldn't be able to write again. But writers, rich or poor, write. That is their business.
Many a great writer wrote for reasons other than art. Dostoevsky wrote in order to keep up with his gambling debts.
Then, Dostoevsky said: "Suffering is the origin of consciousness."
Artists know uncanny ways to make themselves suffer. Born rich or poor, they know how to invite suffering. And suffer they do, and in return, gain a consciousness, an insight and a clairvoyance that makes their art timeless.
Poverty is not a sine qua non for art's creation. Suffering is.
Many writers invite suffering in order to practice their craft. Naipaul resolved not to do anything other than writing as a vocation (With an Oxbridge degree, he would have got a plum job). He suffered for this decision. He never did a job except for writing radio scripts for BBC for some time. So he suffered on. But he did not give up. At times, he was penniless. Then he got book deals and a couple of years later, made his millions.
This debate reminds me of Kafka's story "The Hunger Artist." In a circus, a hunger artist practices a dying art--the art of the hunger artist. He goes without food for months. People see him in a cage and get excited. Then one day he dies. His cage is replaced with the cage of a tiger. Now the tiger excites the visitors. Life goes on.
Like Kafka's Hunger Artist, the true artist is dead today. What remains is marketing and hype. Today's artists are bred and managed like brands.
And like Naipaul said--today's technological society does not need writers. It is a poignant truth.
We are today's Hunger Artists in the world of digital tigers.