(This post is part of a series inspired by reading Scott Timberg’s “Culture Crash: the killing of the creative class.” Read all the book club entries)
One of the things I like best about Culture Crash is the way it does away with the some of our more cherished delusions about artists. Delusions that make artists seem like bad-asses, but don’t actually help with the whole “being an artist” thing.
The introduction nicely dispatched with the idea that artists in the modern era are uniformly hostile to the bourgeoisie middle class: in fact they mostly were the bourgeoisie middle class. They might have been the last to tell you, but,it was true all the same.
Chapter 1 effectively kills the illusion that art scenes occur just because artists happen to live in the same place. On the contrary: a culture of art emerges (or doesn’t) as much from the way artists socialize together as work. However much Romanticism and Modernism celebrated “artists” as solitary geniuses who required peace and quiet lest their nerves be shattered, anti-social artists tend to be both outliers and un-influential on the arts as a whole.
Which means that a group of studios filled by working artists is not necessarily going to be more than the sum of its parts – especially if those artists don’t talk much, and absolutely if there is no particular conversation going on about their work outside of those studios.
That conversation is as vital, if not more so, as their proximity. Timberg quotes artist and critic Peter Plagens: “’You need criticism. You need some polemic – a negative commentary in a magazine here, a positive article there.” Conscientious criticism brings heat to the artists subculture, as well as corralling the public into the conversation, in a way that a-good-time-was-had-by-all cheerleading doesn’t. ‘Art criticism has gone hand in glove with modern art since the beginning,’ Plagens says.”
Questions of art are, therefore, in no small sense questions of community and communication. While Culture Crash is primarily focusing on economics at this point, the questions it’s raising apply equally well to the culture created by the proliferation of artists and the infinite babbling of the internet: Timberg makes a compelling case that artists of the past needed a strong critical infrastructure in order to coalesce into a meaningful scene, but what would that infrastructure look like now? It what ways can and can’t it be replaced by a thousand Twitter accounts about art? (more…)