For a while now, I’ve been questioning the usefulness of the standard categories under which most arts coverage is organized in the media. You know — the “music”, “theatre”, “movies”, “dance”, “visual art”…headings. Oh, and let’s not forget “multimedia” — that weird catchall descriptor that so many sites (including my own) have for putting stuff that doesn’t comfortably fit in anywhere else.
The fact is that arts experiences rarely fit comfortably into this framework — and in fact probably never have. Opera is as much music as it is theatre. And there’s sometimes a fair amount of dance and multimedia going on.
And individual artists habitually resist fitting into comfortable categories — not deliberately so, but just because of the myriad influences on their work.
These days, the habit among content producers is to tag particular pieces of arts content so that they appear in several different sections of a particular website simultaneously to reflect this reality. But this leads to annoying duplication. And if the content appears in enough places on a single site, the categories are rendered almost redundant.
Yet because we’re a society of compartmentalizers, and because there’s an overwhelming amount of content in the world, the stuff needs must be organized somehow.
So what are the alternatives?
One way is to organize by format e.g. “review,” “feature”, “profile” etc. But these forms seem to be merging and melding into one another more than ever before. Not sure this is the answer.
Another common system is chronological. This is pretty handy when you’re looking for something to do on a particular date, but otherwise often overwhelming, especially if you live in or are visiting a relatively busy urban area.
In both of these cases, the standard taxonomy (music, film, visual etc) ends up being part of the picture anyway, with editors using tags to help people navigate otherwise brain-exploding amounts of content.
Here’s a whacky thought:
In tomorrow’s world, I foresee the five senses as an interesting taxonomic possibility for arts journalism. Right now, technology more or less only allows us to “listen” and “see” things. But eventually, maybe arts experiences could fall into “touch,” “taste” and “smell” categories in the media of the future.
How helpful would these categories be, I wonder? Maybe not very. But they somehow help to make cultural experiences seem more immediate than the traditional classification standards.
I’m mulling over other possibilities. Maybe things could be categorized by mood or by ticket price or by…????