Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Big Money Peddling Mediocrity: Arts in the 21st Century

Today, a friend alerted me to an article in the Huffington Post, which is now a puppet of AOL, entitled, "What Is Wrong With The Arts?" I read it and chuckled to myself. The author, Michael Kaiser (who is the President of the Kennedy Center), laments that there is just not enough inventiveness in the serious arts scene. There is more inventiveness, he says, in popular culture.

I say: We get what we pay for. Period.

We are not paying for inventiveness--that is one of the primary reasons that we are left with what people will broadcast on YouTube, for free. Jaron Lanier said as much in his searing manifesto, "You Are Not A Gadget." Lanier's slant on this is that the Internet has not produced jobs for artists. He is correct. Those of us who live in and for the arts are all freelancers, these days--with an unsought emphasis on free. We, the artistically inclined, all pay a higher price for living our lives for the individual stake we hold in the arts.

The larger performing arts concerns are not taking risks, in these low flying days of staving off bankruptcy. Boards and investors are more interested in running a business than perpetuating culture.  Philanthropists are dying off at an alarming rate, and they are not being replaced by the next generation. The universities in the United States and Britain are being turned into corporate money machines that soon will no longer offer liberal arts, of any sort. Fancy that.

The big money concerns in music and film keep as busy as possible with rehashes and remakes. This is less true for dance, but not by much. And even less so for fine arts, where artists have always been starving. But, big money hammers us with sameness, festooned with special effects, or "reality" programming that is not any sort of art at all. Cute animal shows, idiotic home videos, pack-rats, and the like, with hosts that vapidly react to the subject matter they are paid to peddle. The message is loud and clear: we don't like deep art; deep art doesn't sell.

Someone on the inside, like Kaiser, knows only too well how all this works. He worries, in his article, that his facile comments will anger the arts community (does he mean artists or boards of arts organizations?), but artists aren't the people to whom his message needs to be broadcast--and he should know better. Have some backbone, man! You are blaming the wrong people. Look to the suits that hold the purse strings, not the poor artists, who would dearly love the opportunity (and funding) for their own work (to which you won't give the time of day) to find a wider audience. If you want an artistic renaissance, you must become a patron ($$$$!) to the arts, and look for art where it is happening, not within your boardroom. If you want to promote culture, you need to stop thinking like a business.

Small groups and individuals are doing what they always have done: keeping the flame of creativity and excellence alive, even while going in the red. Small groups and individuals are the risk-takers in the arts; they have nothing to lose.

As I said in a previous entry, if you want to free the arts to be inventive, deep, ground-breaking and engaging, you need to PAY! If you pay only for the same-old-same-old, that is your problem, and we the ticket buying public are sure to get bored. Bored, bored, bored. What a surprise! So, we will go home and strike up our garage band, because we know we can do better.

The geniuses are all peddling their wares in the streets. Soon, that is where all true art will reside. More's the pity.


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