Web 2.0: good for the arts, good for journalism
John Stoehr's post last week, in which he drew connections between quite a dizzying number of cultural forces over the past 30 years, rightly generated a good bit of discussion, with contributors from all over the country spicing the stew of ideas in ways that I'm sure John wouldn't have expected.
I don't have any real meat to add; but I have an inclination to stir the pot a bit.
Both John's post, and much of the discussion that followed, seemed to imply that our culture and our newspapers' coverage of culture is spiraling down the drain. Multiculturalism has dissipated standards to the wind, the Internet has dissipated authority to the wind, and this isn't good for us. Perhaps I'm taking some of the contributors to this discussion wrong; but I don't think one can read the whole lot of it in one sitting without coming away with a vague consensus that we're on a path that must be reversed before it's too late: "We need to reclaim the public sphere," says Gary Panetta, while Mike Boehm has suggestions "to reverse this trend" and John worries that "the big-tent version of culture is in serious danger of becoming meaningless."
I tend to view cultural change more in terms of transition than trajectory; as such, I guess I'm not so worried (in the big picture, anyway) about what's going on with the media landscape or popular knowledge of the arts, or about the larger cultural shift going on as relates to our so-called "Web 2.0." In fact, I see reasons for celebration.
First, this whole idea that further democratization of media is a bad thing - brought to the fore recently by Andrew Keen in his book, "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture" - kinda cracks me up. Just because more people can publish their ideas online, doesn't necessarily mean that those people's ideas are any more influential than they were pre-Internet. The noise floor of our public discussions of culture has certainly risen as a result of this new use of the medium; but mistaking the hit-count at YouTube as some kind of roundhouse kick to the face of cultural standards strikes me as backwards thinking.
Let's remember, after all, that it was during the last great age of amateurism that some of western culture's finest art and deepest theoretical inquiry emerged. The ubiquitous piano of the 19th century - which pretty much everyone knew how to play, at least a little - is today's Internet-connected, multimedia computer. The 20th century, with its sudden and unprecedented explosion of world-wide mass media and mass art, was the truer anomaly. I would argue that the state of artistic and journalistic standards that we're grappling with today emerge more as a consequence of this century of mass media than from the relatively new changes brought on by the Internet.
Of course, what mass media eventually exposed, and what Web 2.0 has only further illuminated, is the fact that not everybody is interested in big ideas and cutting-edge art. Fart jokes, it turns out, have broader cultural impact than the Piss Christ.
And this was a surprise...why? As David Sokolec noted in a comment to John's post last week, "the thing to remember is that art never attracted an enormous crowd."
The only real difference between today's dialogue about culture, and yesterday's, is that the water cooler looks different. We still mostly talk about the same things: the weather, our friends and families, politics, maybe something interesting we saw at the theater. Because these common conversations have now been democratized and dispersed, we have higher expectations than ever from the media we're willing to pay for: It must inform us and enlighten us about things we don't understand or simply don't know. If it's just a regurgitation of Google News and Wikipedia, it's not worth paying for.
This is bad news for bad artists and second-rate journalists. It is good news, I tend to believe, for the truly skilled, the deeply passionate, the innovative, and the informed among us.
The bottleneck is broken; the floodgates are now fully open. Now that anybody can publish their thoughts or their art for the entire world, it seems to me that the higher ground is the only safe place left for professional journalists and the companies that employ them.
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog