This Week: Did settling the Pittsburgh Symphony strike just kick the can down the road?… The idea of progress is a fragile (and recent) notion… Why should this arts funding depend on encouraging bad behavior?… The art establishment is caught in an increasingly high-stakes investment battle… We celebrate reading – but has the dissemination of ideas and knowledge moved on?
- Pittsburgh Symphony Kicks Its Problems Down The Road: Yes, yes, the orchestra reached an agreement on a new contract with its musicians Wednesday, ending a nearly two-month-long strike. Musicians will take a pay cut of 3.5 percent for a couple of years, but by the of the five-year agreement salaries are supposed to be restored. Nowhere in the press release or in this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about the end of the strike, is there mention of a plan to solve the orchestra’s financial problems. Is there a major artistic initiative or business restructuring that will put the orchestra back on stable ground? If so, shouldn’t that have been front and center in the announcement of the agreement? We certainly hope there’s a great plan for stability behind this agreement. Otherwise, musicians taking painful cuts in pay with the vague hope that things will get better in the next five years is not a solution; it’s just propping up something that isn’t working.
- Do You Believe In Progress? Maybe It’s Time To Challenge That Notion: This piece in The Atlantic a couple of weeks ago challenged the notion that our world is built on an idea of progress, no matter how shaky or imperfectly realized. Progress seems so inevitable to us in the modern world. But for much of human history, the very idea of progress was a dangerous and unwanted one: most cultures subscribed to a measure of “ancestor worship”—the belief that “all wisdom had been revealed to earlier sages and that to learn anything one should peruse their writings and find the answer in their pages.” It wasn’t until the last few hundred years that this idea that our lives could – should – progress because they could be improved, took hold. For a more dystopian view of “progress”, UC Berkeley professor Geoff Nunberg examines Nicholas Carr’s recently repackaged diary of the Internet Age and observes that futurists are always promising better worlds thanks to technology. Unfortunately, these visions are rarely delivered. Technology is amoral, and simply amplifying human nature gives us more of what we already have. The idea that technology makes us “better” or more moral has been disproved time and time again.
- Incentivizing Something Bad To Subsidize Something Good? A story in ArtsProfessional this week reports a rather large decline in arts funding from UK lottery ticket sales. According to the report, sales of lottery tickets are down £226 million from April to September this year compared to last, and since a portion of the proceeds goes to the arts, there will be an £18.4 million cut in subsidy to the arts. And the declines could continue. What to think of this? Terrible for the arts because of the decline of gambling? Good for the working poor because they’re not throwing so much of their money away on lottery tickets? Our system of funding of “public goods” has gotten increasingly broken when the success of funding important good things is tied to encouragement of behavior that is detrimental to those providing the funds.
- As The Stakes Get Higher The Opinions Get More Cautious: There have been many stories of late about the difficulties of authentication in art. When fakes get discovered, the reputations of those who authenticated them are at stake. Several Old Masters have recently been declared fakes and the art world is busy pointing fingers. A catalogue set of Van Gogh drawing was recently published, and its authenticity is being hotly contested by the Van Gogh establishment. It isn’t just about the reputations of those who dispute or authenticate – or for that matter whether the art itself is good or bad depending on whether it’s by the artist or not. It’s about a billion-dollar investment industry that has seen art fetch hundreds of millions of dollars at sale. Art, as any other commodity in limited supply, counts on the “authenticity” of the commodity. And, as this story in the Toronto Star suggests, museums and the art establishment are central players in establishing market credibility.
- What If Reading Isn’t About Words On A Page At All? Sales of words on a page – aka books – have been declining for some time. Even e-books, which once seem like the key to reviving book sales, are down. But there’s one book format that is growing fast – audio books. Which begs the question: In a multimedia age where we can store and distribute ideas in many formats, what, actually does it mean to be a book? We have long celebrated reading and literacy because reading was a superior way of accessing ideas of others. But is actual reading of words on a page still the best way to experience or understand ideas and information?