April 19, 2005

Bigger or Better

I should check out Terry Treachout's Artsjournal blog more often.

Take a look at this, in light of the commentary exchange Brent and I had in the last post:

My point wasn?t that plays were no longer worth writing, or that all new plays were bad: it was that in a mass culture, live theater is not a major player in the cultural conversation, simply by virtue of the fact that comparatively few people see it. To write a play is not an efficient way of attracting the attention of very large numbers of people, and the novel (by which I mean serious literary fiction, not The Da Vinci Code), it seems to me, is headed in the same direction.

Is that bad? Only if you?re the sort of ?artist? who treats your art as an instrumentality, a means of accomplishing something exterior to art and its true purposes. If you write plays (or serious novels) in order to advance a cause (or to make a lot of money), you?re probably wasting your time. If, on the other hand, your interest is in art for its own soul-illuminating sake, you?re in the right business. Merely because very large numbers of people don?t go to the theater doesn?t mean that plays aren?t worth writing and producing. Quite the contrary, it means that those of us who love theater?and I love it passionately?are thereby freed to concentrate on its unique properties, undistracted by secondary considerations.

Here's more, if you haven't hit the link yet:

All of us now living have grown up with the mass media, whose effect on art has been at once to democratize it and to distort the values of many artists. I?m for democratizing the arts?or, rather, democratizing access to the arts. I believe devoutly that far more people are capable of appreciating serious art than are currently experiencing it. I don?t believe, however, that everyone is capable of appreciating it, nor do I think that a work of art is in any sense better because it is being experienced by a larger number of people. Ubiquity is not the same thing as importance, and those who hanker after the former are unlikely to achieve the latter....

...One piece of good news is that arts journalism is being transformed before our eyes by the rise of Web-based new media?and just in the nick of time. The old mass media were and are zero-sum operations, as advocates of literary fiction have been discovering to their dismay in recent years. Allocate more space (or air time) to one topic and you have that much less space available for all other topics: novels compete with memoirs, classical music with jazz, theater with film, indie flicks with special-effects extravaganzas. Now that most of us live in one-newspaper towns, and now that newspapers themselves are struggling for survival, that?s turned into an iron law.

The Web is different: it permits you to publish a ?newspaper? or ?magazine? of your very own without having to pay for ink, paper, bricks, and mortar?much less a graduate degree in journalism. What it doesn?t guarantee, however, is that such ?newspapers? will ever be read by millions of people, or that their publishers will be able to give up their day jobs. Artblogging will never be a true mass medium because serious art doesn?t appeal to a mass audience. And what?s wrong with that? Bigger isn?t better, and the world doesn?t owe artists a living, much less critics and editors.

That's about right.

And he finishes this way:

Art isn?t religion, but it has something important in common with religion: it?s a form of soulcraft. Souls can only be changed one by one, and each one is as supremely important as the next. Hence there are no small audiences, only small-souled artists. Blessed are the arts that can be experienced by a mere handful of people at a time, for theirs is the kingdom of beauty at its most intense and precious.
Posted by Dennis at April 19, 2005 12:10 AM

1 Comment

A writer friend said to me that the problem these days is there are too many writers savvy with the reduction of writing to fill the gap of the short-term and trend (why not? nobody notices the difference!), and that the real writer either has to compete with this, or blow things out, or must learn to remain satisfied with a small audience (almost verbatim TT). This friend wasn't optimally happy with this snare.
I suggested to abort that train.
TT is great, and I really enjoyed that read--fits perfectly your thread, Dennis. But like a harp, the soul has been over-played. We've all got it. The pants of it just needs new explanatory notes.

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