Recently by Lewis Hyde
One organizing idea of Bill's book Arts, Inc. is that our default conceptions of "art" and "culture" leave us blind to and powerless before many of the forces that in fact affect expressive/cultural/artistic life. Bill and others have offered examples in these posts: the consolidation of radio stations, the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation, the Supreme Court's ruling on corporate money in politics...
To make a list of these things is to come at "expressive life" from the substantive rather than linguistic end of the puzzle. What are the problems that might be solved, or at least better enjoined, if we could get beyond our default conceptions?
To continue the "what's in and what's out" thread, then, might we generate a more formal list of the topics or policy areas that Bill and others hope to see come into focus? Bill's initial post offered a starter set:
intellectual property, broadband penetration, amateur art practice, media regulation, the vitality of for-profit arts companies, non-school arts learning, Fair Use, union policies, and access to cultural heritage.
A later post adds a few more: "media regulation, corporate archival preservation policies, revenue streams that flow to the arts industries...." Russell Taylor suggests we look at "what role an expressive life should have in a developing democracy" and consider the idea that "our ... adherence to 'star' hierarchies in the arts contributes actively to social and economic inequalities, just as in the realm of sports."
My own list would include:
* Claiming the fair use doctrine for all realms of expression. As many of you know, good work has been done in this realm by documentary filmmakers. I myself have tried to start up a project for teachers and artists in higher education. (Funders: please call soon!) There's much to be done here.
* Designing online libraries to maximize the circulation of knowledge, consistent with current law. Specifically there are serious issues at stake in the Google Book Search Settlement that is now before a Federal Court. The disposition of that lawsuit will shape our expressive ecology for a generation to come and yet much of what is about to transpire seems to me invisible to the "arts & culture" community.
What other topics belong in this list?
A question lingers, however: when does reframing work and why? Many Democrats in the 2004 election thought that if they could just change the catch phrases of the debate they would win. They were wrong.
I don't know the answer to the "when & why." I hope others can offer some insight. That said, my guess is that, as always, it matters whether the ground is fertile or sterile when you scatter your seed. In this line a decade ago I wrote an essay that looked toward American history to try to understand what did and didn't have political traction when we debate issues such as funding the arts.
I ended up with a short list of themes whose roots are very old in this country but whose fruits we still seem to be harvesting. I suspect, for one, that we still have a surviving ethic of Protestant simplicity. We also have a strong suspicion of anything that doesn't seem practical and useful; finally, from our early emphasis on the value of voluntary association, we have inherited a particular sense of what it means to contribute taxes to any common enterprise.
The opposition between simplicity and luxury was a commonplace in the eighteenth century, the latter always linked to corruption and tyranny. From "the dawn of history," John Adams wrote, the fine arts "have been prostituted to the service of superstition and despotism." It wasn't only the opulence of European art that put him off, either; it was the hierarchies of wealth that the stuff implied. Adams had visited Blenheim in England, a palace that had taken twenty-two years to build: did Americans wish to repeat the class system required for that kind of project?
As for the American love of the practical and useful, its flip side is distrust of learning or art pursued for their own sake. To take but one old example: in the nineteenth century, Yankee blue bloods, weary of having civic offices filled by the spoils system, hoped to institute competency tests, whereupon they were attacked for demanding useless knowledge when only the useful was needed. On the floor of the House a congressman from Mississippi spun out the following fantasy:
Suppose some wild mustang girl from New Mexico comes here for a position, and it may be that she does not know whether the Gulf stream runs north or south, or perhaps she thinks it stands on end..., yet although competent for the minor position she seeks, she is sent back home rejected.
A Senator from Wisconsin worried that a businessman, his mind "long engrossed in practical pursuits," would be rejected for public service in favor of a "dunce who has been crammed up to a diploma at Yale."
Bill Ivey writes that Art and Culture "are so burdened with assumptions and multiple meanings...that our key words are actually barriers." I agree. But those assumptions and meanings have very deep roots. How effective can a change of terms be in cutting those roots?
I like the phrase "expressive life." I'll use it myself. But I'm also aware that I don't know when reframing works and when it doesn't work. Ideas anyone?
Adrian Ellis; Alan Brown; Andras Szanto; Andrew Taylor; Bau Graves; Douglas McLennan; Ellen Lovell; Bill Ivey, William James; James Early; Jim Smith; Lewis Hyde; Marian Godfrey; Martha Bayles; Nihar Patel; Russell Taylor; Sam Jones; Steven Tepper
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