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June 16, 2007

Death of an expert

by Russell Willis Taylor

Difficult to know what to add to so many insightful observations, so have been reading rather than writing. It is gratifying to see that we are beyond the "we don't want the world to change" stage, if not perhaps all at the same stage of acceptance that the delivery systems that we have invested untold millions in just may not meet the needs and wants of the next generation. This is not to say that there isn't a role for wonderful music beautifully played by professional musicians in a glorious concert hall, but is rather to say that perhaps we need to get to grips with the fact that this is far from the only experience of classical music that people want, and they may not want to experience as much of it as we wish to produce.

One of the respondents early on in this blog commented that "I'm not a great watcher. . . I like to be singing or playing." And there it is - a succinct affirmation that the unmet appetite is the participatory one. I think it goes much deeper than just the American Idol syndrome, or everyone wanting their fifteen minutes of fame. Some of you may have followed the story in both Wired and The Washington Post about a respected journalist who found he could not interview bloggers for a story, as they refused to have their words filtered through him as a professional journalist. This goes much further than just the curatorial me, it is an example of the zeitgeist telling us that the role of the expert is shifting rapidly. New technologies are not just helping people explore ways in which to be creative, they are giving people the outlet to be heard and are providing a powerful vehicle for the democratization of expression.

A recent study by five university psychologists analyzed results from the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (I'm not making this one up, folks) and demonstrated that since 1982 young people are experiencing an inexorable increase in the "positive and inflated view of the self." The academics speculated that technology may have something to do with it, but the point is that the next generation of viewers see themselves differently than our current audiences do, and in a pretty fundamental way. If we want anything we do to be of relevance, we have to see ourselves and the role we play in their lives differently to the same degree of radical change. This is not one for tinkering at the margins - this is a complete shift from being the expert to making each and every audience member the expert, and living with their freely expressed opinions.

The organizational structure of most of our business doesn't lend itself to change in this way, but Doug has admonished us to stick with one topic per posting, so I will save that for later.

Posted by rtaylor at June 16, 2007 7:13 AM


The death of "experts" is certainly a good thing. it was 'experts" who told composers in the 1950s and '60s to write serialism or pack it in. Shame on them.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that swinging all the way to the other side of the spectrum and saying, in effect, "everyone's an artist" is such a great thing, either. The issue is quality. (Greg S. gave me a hard time about "raising the quality issue" in a comment to one of his earlier posts -- and that's cool, Greg -- but if quality isn't the issue, then why are all these pixels being spent in chin-strokes about the advent of untrained artists?) I suspect that, after a while, things will settle back into a middle ground, where mere access to media and the desire to "make art" are just not enough to make one an "artist."

I wrote about this last fall by way of a column for the Desert Advocate, a weekly here in Phoenix. The piece is now posted to my blog; follow this impossibly long link:


Posted by: Ken at June 16, 2007 1:14 PM

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