Fine Art And The Free Market

'Forbes' Proves You Don't Need Welfare to Make Good Art.

Big Issue V: What is True?, Forbes ASAP, $4.95.

WITH FEW EXCEPTIONS, literary journals are financed in two ways: with voluntary donations from private benefactors and foundations, or with stolen property received in the form of involuntary, taxpayer-financed grants. Not surprisingly, the free-market warriors at Forbes will have none of that. The annual Big Issue of the bimonthly Forbes ASAP proves you don't need private donations or public welfare to produce a first-rate literary product.

How does Forbes do it? Simple: It produces a quality product, and consumers and advertisers buy it. (According to the Village Voice, this year's Big Issue ad-edit ratio is 53-47, and it sells as well as Harpers or The Atlantic). The formula is fool-proof: Once a year, the Forbes ASAP editors come up with a topic, then hire the best writers and thinkers to address it. The list of wordsmiths tackling this year's question--"What is True?"--reads like a veritable who's-who of contemporary letters: Gore Vidal, Ann Beattie, Elmore Leonard, Ian Frazier, Arthur Miller, Carl Hiaasen, Stephen Ambrose, Molly Ivins, the Dalai Lama, Stanley Crouch, William Vollman and about 30 others are here, mixing it up in high style.

To be sure, there are a few clunkers in the bunch (Does anybody really need another word from John Updike?), and arts welfare mothers will likely cringe at the presence of so many ads. But "What is True?" is a winner--a successful blend of art and commerce, and, in tone and style, a breath of fresh air against the flatulent boomer narcissism of Vanity Fair and the long-winded stodginess of the New Yorker.

"What is True?" is on newsstands 'til November 27. Go get it, and see for yourself why the term "free market literary journal" doesn't have to be an oxymoron.

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