Beer vs. Art, or inspiration from consumption

ImageThe two fields I know the most about, given my history and my interests, are craft beer and art. Or, to put it a different way, my dad owns a brewery in Seattle, and my mom is a curator and deputy director at the Seattle Art Museum, and a year ago, lo: I was working at a brewpub and interning at two art galleries. I majored in Art History in college because it gave me a way to understand history and the world around me: through visual production. And craft beer, in this day and age, kind of sells itself.

But both of these fields underpin a lot of what I find important. If you think when you look, you’re able to start identifying the choices that artists made – choices that will tell you about what they cared about, what they’re responding to, and what was going on in the world. This is as true for contemporary art as it is for ancient art. People get scared by contemporary art because somewhere around the 1850’s art theory became sentient and brought us things like Cubism, and Abstract Expressionism, and Damien Hirst – things that are not beautiful, and do not show us a world we recognize. But if you look closely and don’t think that you already have all the answers, works like those can tell us just as much about a time and a place in history as the Pyramids. Art is powerful for the idealism it is necessarily composed of – the non-functional production of an active mind in the interest of self expression. It is important for, and a mirror of, our humanity.

On the other side, the craft beer world looks remarkably low-brow. Beer is for enjoyment, and while that falls into what I would say is the ‘semi-noble’ column of things, there is, generally, a marked decrease in the amount of self-expression-through-production that goes on. I can’t think of many brewers who would claim as much. Instead, craft beer is important because it’s a business that remains fundamentally and irrevocably bound to its founding ideal – to stand in opposition to big beer.

The novelty of this position came up when I was talking to several brewery owners about the state of their companies and their plans for the future. What started as a fun, who-knows-we-should-keep-trying-I-guess project 20 years ago has morphed into a $8.7 billion dollar nationwide market. But the options for these owners interested one day in retiring and perhaps leaving the company running side of things behind them, are limited because of the idealism that started things off in the first place. While some craft breweries sell to the big, multinational ones, it goes against the founding values of some of the more principled breweries.

It is this business model, mired in the alternative, that I find so interesting. By including values in the origins of the company, you can never be led astray. And to have them be values other than, “I suppose this is a convenient way of making money,” is inspiring (after a brief dip into depression for having such low standards). Art is so important because it tells us more about ourselves and our world, but it isn’t equipped to deal with the real side of things – in our day and age, that’s the business side. Craft beer, though, is an alternative model for capturing traditional markets, and when you’ve disavowed the preexisting rules, you are much more likely to trust your values and make a new path forward.

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