Harriet Harman,the UK’s Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, remarked in a recent public appearance that the audience of certain publicly funded arts venues (e.g. for opera, ballet, classical music, etc.) is too much of her milieu: privileged, posh, and white. In her words, funding and patronization of the arts is becoming “the prerogative of a metropolitan elite” and public figures—alongside arts organizations—are just not doing enough to draw in a more diverse crowd. We must ensure that the common people, not just the “patricians,” are cultivating their aesthetic sensibilities—the right ones, anyway. That’s the sentiment, anyway.
For all of the reputed crass materialism and low-browishness, many people in America also seem to care about the endangerment of art and music classes in public schools. Even the First Lady has touted the versatile, academic benefits of arts education, especially for students stuck in low-performing and under-served schools. Others argue that you can gauge the economic health of a city or town by measuring the vitality of its “creative economy.”
Full-disclosure: I graduated from a magnet creative and performing arts high school in Philadelphia. Sooo, I can attest to the benefits of a rich arts curriculum (being a first-generation-college-student-from-a-working-class-family who is now en route to a doctorate is my testimony).
I wholeheartedly agree that the arts are a boon to academic development, “good for the soul,” a testament to human ingenuity, etc. But I think the internet does more to pique and cultivate our aesthetic sensibilities than a publicly-funded, politician-approved arts program.
The internet renders artistic content more pluralistic and accessible. It is where “low-brow” coexists with “high-brow.” And it’s where art-lovers with a taste for the niche can directly support independent, aspiring artists.
It is unsurprising, in my observation, that the individuals who spearhead organizations (both state agencies and private) that dole out funds for arts projects and programs are inclined to promote art with a specific kind of content. Artworks have been funded and promoted as paeans for an ideology or as symbolic weapons.
Nevermind that there has never been a solid or lasting consensus on what the hell is art. But if even you did come up with a half-decent and inclusive definition, you are still in the business in deciding what kind of projects and works merit the label of “art” and, thus, worthy of those coveted NEA grants.
With the rise of social media outlets and crowdfunding sites, though it would be kinda nice, you do not really need any Medicis to jump start your art career. Through networking sites like Behance, up-and-coming, nascent, and established artists alike can sell, share, and self-promote without the middle man.
Want to help inner-city teens in Los Angeles put together a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? There is a crowdfund for that. You can also help the Spanish Harlem Orchestra pay for musical scores, travel fees, and instruments or help a struggling opera company. Look, I get that that this doesn’t get close to a city budget for art education programs, but it certainly looks like a promising, alternative way of ameliorating the problem of “artistic decline” in schools and neighborhoods.
If you have a taste for the novel, the niche, the strange, or obscure, social media does not disappoint. There is a niche outlet for almost everything. Juxtapoz, the arts magazine that sprouted from the underground, truant Lowbrow Art movement , just celebrated its 20th year of circulation as a one of the most widely read art publications.
It was not the Harriet Harmans or Michelle Obamas of the world that brought this movement into fruition, but artists who gave two-shits about what the aesthetes of the NYC art scene thought of their style.
As for my own enjoyment of the aesthetic bounty, I can spend hours clicking through the archives of Hi-Fructose and Empty Kingdom, or scrolling down the feeds of the Dark and Fantastic Arts Facebook page to get my aesthetic-pleasure fix. I still relish those sporadic trips to art museums. But, alas, the Met Museum is a three to four hour drive from my current locale and a tad pricey— the internet is much closer to home.
Similarly, online music-streaming services like Pandora, Grooveshark, and Spotify have done more for my classical music literacy than all of the elementary school music classes I had to take combined, and Hulu Plus is a goldmine for film-buffs.
Artistic vitality is not just about enough working-class people frequenting operas and ballets or about annual, art-shows at public schools. It is also about a plethora of artistic styles and accessible content for different people – which the internet makes possible. And about the opportunity for a Park Slope New Yorker to help an L.A. inner-city music ensemble buy new equipment through crowdfund donations—well, that’s made possible by the internet.