( … doubtless highly subjective and trying to be open to civil / reasoned correction.
This shouldn’t be about laying blame; I’m not even that interested in the reasons for the things I describe right now, just trying to perceive truth that has perhaps been missed.)
I think there are two trends to how performance, especially though not only music, has been seen and/or presented that may be very dangerous to maintaining high-level professional performances.
Firstly, from buying to tipping. In the UK at present, public indoor performances are illegal (even if a few organisations are circumventing the rules, as always happens). Performances can be broadcast or recorded for an audience not physically present, or take place outdoors. The problem is that, for different reasons, both of those contexts are hard to put behind a paywall, certainly compared to where the performance is conveniently surrounded by physical walls. Outdoor performances can be ticketed, of course, but the infrastructure to do so requires upfront investment beyond the budget of most arts organisations; so most outdoor performances currently are free to access with a hope of collecting tips/donations – they are essentially pretty much busking, unless underwritten by (usually fairly invisible) sponsorship of some kind. Arts online have been extremely difficult to sell, as opposed to ask for donations or possibly have subscription-model access, for years – and perhaps paradoxically, ‘live’ video, whether in real time or not, is more difficult to monetise even than downloadable recordings.
The problem with this shift is that it makes audiences in general used to not having to pay for the arts. (Even more used, I should say; it is only accelerating pre-pandemic trends.) Even if they do pay, it feels more like a charitable donation or even a personal favour. Therefore, the arts are de-essentialised and potentially downgraded to somewhere between a hobby and begging leverage.
The other misrepresentation is that the arts ‘just happen’. The slightly tongue in cheek but overwhelmingly common media presence of musicians, dancers and actors playing from their balconies, filming ensemble pieces from their bedrooms and generally continuing to do art while artistic institutions are closed and empty gives the impression that performers perform as it were innately, through some (fictional) combination of unschooled talent and personal categorical imperative.
This is not only untrue but highly dangerous. If musicians will still perform and record Mozart and Wagner without concert halls, audiences or even being able to meet to rehearse (runs the subconscious line of thought), then why should the price paid for the music reflect the time they spend rehearsing, practising, being taught, studying? If they will carry on producing art while locked down, and if they need to act / dance / sing so much they practically can’t stop themselves, couldn’t they just all get day jobs to pay the bills and play the bassoon on the side?
Let me be clear for anyone who doesn’t know this already. Professional-standard music does not just happen. It requires years of training and thousands of hours of study to achieve. But it also requires hours every week of intense concentration and hard work offstage to maintain – even besides rehearsal to learn new material and polish coherent performances. Unless you possess exceptional levels of energy, resilience and self-discipline (and remarkably few responsibilities), it is just not possible to do a job that will cover living costs (especially in 21st century London) and continue to play at the level that has been expected of a professional ‘art’ musician for the last couple of generations or more.
That is why, at some stage in the process, someone has to ‘buy’ performed art. That is why, for there to be the sort of music, drama, dance etc. we are used to, performers have to be able to earn a living wage from performing alone.