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How Jim Henson made muppets and cash coexist

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  September 25, 2013 09:42 AM

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Jim Henson is a hard person to place: quintessentially avuncular, creator of zany, heartwarming puppets, and, until his death in 1990, the muppet mogul behind one of the biggest juggernauts in the children's economy. Massachusetts native Elizabeth Hyde Stevens, who lives in Somerville, has been interested in the tension between commercial success and artistic integrity in Henson's life for awhile. She's taught a course at Boston University called "Muppets, Mickey, and Money," and now has a new book out, "Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career."

The book, which is being published as a Kindle serial, and which was reviewed favorably last week on Brain Pickings, argues that Henson was able to preserve his artist's spirit even while negotiating TV deals with HBO because he didn't see any intrinsic tension between the marketplace and creativity. Here's a key section from the book, via Brain Pickings, which explains how Henson thought of commercial success as a means to make more art:

The dance involves art and money, but not at the same time. In the first stage, it is paramount that the artist 'reserves a protected gift-sphere in which the art is created.' He keeps money out of it. But in the next two phases, they can dance. The way I see it, Hyde’s dance steps go a little something like this:
  • Make art.
  • Make art make money.
  • Make money make art.

It is the last step that turns this dance into a waltz — something cyclical so that the money is not the real end. Truly, for Jim Henson, money was a fuel that fed art.

It's a simple formulation, of course, and also a fun mantra to imagine on the lips of an unknown artist still stuck on step one: "make money make art, make money make art, make money make art."

You can read more at Brain Pickings. There's also this long excerpt from the book on Longreads.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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