The end of art, part one: the dental floss paradox

Any artist, whatever their domain, knows that in order to produce a work of art there’s a certain amount of preparation that goes into the work. This could be sketching (often done by painters and sculptors), rehearsing, or any activity that is necessary for the end result of the artwork. For writers, this may be the time that one must take to get into the creative focus and flow, the drafts and sketches, research notes, and so on. Regardless of the art domain there are also materials used in the process which may not end up in the finished piece, such as pages used for drafting and sketches, or clay. There is also time spent on these activities which are part of the process, and necessary, even if they don’t make it to the finished work. There’s also the general effort and execution of the work.

Regardless of the art form a certain amount of: time, preparation, effort and execution, and materials are required to achieve the artwork even if they are not part of the end result that one can perceive. I think of this as the dental floss paradox:

When you floss your teeth, you select an amount of floss, and then you must wind a certain amount of that floss around a finger on your left hand, and a certain amount on your right hand. How much floss a person uses varies based on several factors. However, there is always a certain amount of floss (usually at the ends of the length of floss) which cannot be used to do any flossing. These lengths of floss must be wound around a finger in order to create enough tension and control to actually floss. These lengths of floss are necessary but in a sense wasted because they never come into contact with teeth. Yet, they are necessary for the job of flossing notwithstanding.

This is relevant to artists and to art in general because in order to create a good work of art, you need extra time and resources (extra floss) to get the job done. Increasingly, this is becoming more difficult for artists to achieve.

Taking writing as an example, it’s true that self-publishing has reduced many of the barriers involved in publishing a work. The problem arises when the work doesn’t sell. How much time and effort does an artist have if they are not financially remunerated for their craft? They must work doing something in order to live, and when they are done with that work, they logically will have less time and effort available to devote to their craft than if they had sponsorship (a patron).

Essentially, artists who are not able to support themselves with sales (increasingly difficult due to a variety of reasons) will not produce the great works they are capable of, or if they do, will not produce the quantity that they might. Think of it like having only so much dental floss, and therefore only being able to floss half of one’s teeth properly.

This is the way that art will suffer, and we as society will suffer as well. Artists simply will run out of the resources necessary to work on their craft. So what happens next? I will answer that in the following post.

This is part one of two of a series. Part two will post next Friday.

*image linked from


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