I just finished watching a documentary on the state of Art in the era of the internet called Push Pause Play. The documentary consulted a number of artists and thinkers from Robyn to Andrew Keen and attempted to cover mediums from the written word to film, to music, and on. I think the question raised by the documentary that was the most intriguing to me (it didn’t really answer much of anything, excepting the tacked on solution that live performances would save music), was that of how the elitist endeavor of art could survive the radical democratization of all of its mediums.
My first reaction when watching the documentary was one of disdain. I get tired of artists whining about how hard it is to get noticed because ANYONE can make art these days. The knee-jerk response from me is: make quality shit, only do shit you believe in; and the moneys/security/recognition will come. I do relate though, how does one stand out with so many options? How does one survive when anything can be replicated or stolen? The truth is though, as time has proven, when a product is good, people will pay for it, even when they have the option to steal it. The problem of theft tends to be one brought about by the dilemma of too much choice. People just don’t know if something is going to be any good and so they want to make sure their investment is going to be worth it. The secondary problem is that the technology to create art, has made the creation of art so easy that the product is very often quite mediocre.
So what do I mean when I say that the artist should suffer but not the art?
I mean that the technology that makes the creation of art easy, doesn’t make the creation of good art easy. There was a reason why it was hard to get published by a publishing house as an author; there were gatekeepers there that helped to discern good writing from bad. Granted these days everything is free and equal, but the person who wrote 50 Shades of Grey has gotten wealthy off of the production of truly awful prose.
I’m not championing the return of the publishing house determining what is good and bad, but I think that we do have to get comfortable internalizing a certain amount of elitism and judgment. The solution to the problem is one of critical thinking and discernment. The burden is upon us to become elitist in our own consumption.
Many of us feel strange thinking of ourselves as elitists, but I want to remove some level of stigma from that word. The abolitionist movement was elitist, so was the idea of women’s suffrage and atheism. The Age of Reason was brought about by a group of elitists. These elitists realized that democracy was better than monarchy, but they also realized that democracy was useless if the general population didn’t develop the same ability to reason that they had…so the first thing they set about doing (after a few bloody revolutions and a regicide in France) was creating a set legal code and public education.
I think we have to approach what we consume with more care and discernment, but that we must also consider what it is that we are putting out into the collective consciousness with more conscientiousness as well. The answer to the problem is diligence, that we have to be more diligent in what we do and what we create.
I keep hoping that after the malignant digital narcissism of social networking destroys the very concept of fame, art will be left once again with actual artists that do what they do because it is a passion that burns them down to the quick. If we are in the midst of a second Cultural Dark Age, as Andrew Keen believes, I look forward to the Renaissance that must follow.