The Sound of Wheels Spinning

By Martha Bayles
This blogathon is in danger of getting bogged down in a contradiction of its own making.

By contradiction I don't mean disagreement.  On the contrary, the level of agreement is thoroughgoing.  The problem is, the two propositions that everyone seems to agree about are contradictory.

First, there is a general sense that "we" need some sort of centralized cultural authority to deal in a coherent and coordinated fashion with the array of issues raised by Bill Ivey.

Second, the prevailing mantra is that cultural authority is bad, especially when it is centralized.

Bill has done an admirable job of raising a set of interrelated issues and tracing the connections among them.  But while no one is proposing a U.S. minister of culture (or to use the more likely term, culture czar), many of the arguments posted here point to a desire for some national entity powerful enough to direct resources in a more fruitful direction, maximize the amount of expressive life flowing in all directions, and (most important) re-order the perverse priorities of an irresponsible private sector.

I am in sympathy with all of these aims, and I will leave aside for the moment the question of whether the government has either the power or the will to impose any sort of curbs on the entertainment industry.

The point is, you can't want a culture czar and at the same time decry any exercise of evaluative judgment as "elitism."  (In arts circles, I find that  "elitism" is like "racism," an epithet that effectively paralyzes thought.)

Resources aren't infinite, and the unspoken goal of every human being's self-expression being appreciatively received by every other human being is absurd.  So choices must be made, and unless the cultural marketplace is to become even more of a lottery than it is now, those choices must be based on some sort of evaluative judgment.

So elitism -- i.e. cultural authority -- is required if "we" are going to achieve any of the goals presented here.
January 28, 2010 7:29 AM | |


This Conversation Are the terms "Art" and "Culture" tough enough to frame a public policy carve-out for the 21st century? Are the old familiar words, weighted with multiple meanings and unhelpful preconceptions, simply no longer useful in analysis or advocacy? In his book, Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey advances "Expressive Life" as a new, expanded policy arena - a frame sufficiently robust to stand proudly beside "Work Life," "Family Life," "Education," and "The Environment." Is Ivey on the right track, or more

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About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
State of the Art
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
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
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
The Unanswered Question
Joe Horowitz on music

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary