Yes, we in classical music have a focus, have concerns that the rest of the world might not share. And which might seem odd to people on the outside.
It’s nothing new to say that our focus on the past is one of those odd-seeming things. Art of the past, in all genres? Of course! No problem, whether it’s a Shakespeare play, a Tolstoy novel, a Robert Frost poem, a Joan Crawford mov
Many of us love those things. We just don’t focus on them. Theater companies do just as many new plays as old, serious readers read many new novels. And so on. While we keep loving Beethoven and Brahms. Not that anything’s wrong with them, but enough!
Showing how far out we are
So here’s a demonstration of what outliers we are. We might think that art museums were like us, forever showing the old masters.
But no. In 2016 I read a big newspaper piece, I think in the New York Times, about how contemporary art has taken over the art world. I regret that I can’t find the link — can anyone help me here? I’d be grateful!
So I asked a leading art critic if what the piece said was true, and they said it was. Namely, that
- Contemporary art shows draw the largest crowds at museums
- Art collectors primarily buy contemporary art
- Graduate students in art history — future museum curators, some of them — mainly study contemporary art.
That last point, the piece said (as I recall), is so true that some people in the field worry that in the future there won’t be enough qualified curators to work with old art.
What this means to us
So there we are. Outliers. Sometimes people say, not very pleasantly, that a classical concert can be too much like a museum. But it’s been true for quite a while that this isn’t true, because museums are far more oriented toward the current world than we are.
I don’t think this makes us look good, to the people we’d like to find for our new audience. We’ll look backward to them.
But there is some good news here. Once classical music emerges into contemporary life, our new audience will be there already, waiting for us.
And by the way…the Museum of Modern Art just announced a major expansion of its galleries, due to be built this summer. And whose purpose is to show works by women and artists of color, alongside the established modernist canon.
Which puts MOMA way ahead of just about any big classical music institution we could name. We’d better get moving on diversity. Subject of a future blog post! Not just talking about diversity, but doing something about it. Kicking the percentage, for instance, of orchestra musicians of color up to 10% of those onstage at big orchestras, up from the current 4%. Out in the real world of 2019, we look shamefully out of touch for not doing this.