State of the Arts – we’re not peasants, we’re an autonomous collective

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

“I didn’t know we had a King. I thought we were an autonomous collective.” Monty Python’s Holy Grail

Deep winter in Canada. Yes, it’s that time of year again where I might wax on about how the cold makes us Canadians a unique lot; as the world warms perhaps we shall see a reversal of holidaying destinations. People may travel to the cold for their time off as the hundred and twenty five degree days get just too much for them. They may one day flock to our ice covered roads, our slippery store fronts, get used to wearing scarves that get slathered in saliva as you cover your freezing chin, learn to walk backwards in the twenty five below wind chill and then master skating with a coffee in hand.

The cold afforded time for a lot of reading. A lot of written words, and I mean a lot have been typed over the state of art today. Two recent articles however stand out. The first was an Atlantic article that seem to get passed around over the holidays titled The Death of the Artist and the birth of the Creative Entrepreneur which ended 2014 and Art 2.0 by my colleague Trout in Plaid which started 2015.

Both articles in extremely different ways called out the sea change in our culture from that of an art world based on inspiration, value, individuality, patronage, educated criticism, artistic vision and vocation to one in which corporations set the pace, technology homogenizes tools, dilettantes abound and creativity becomes a service. Right away you can kinda’ guess where I hang my hat I suppose. I’m actually not opposed to change or progress, I am however opposed to letting centuries of thinking and creativity, good and bad, get polished away from the shiny surfaces of our ipads.

A recent opening in the city of Sudbury, Ontario (where its even colder) was packed with people who had smart things to say. How could art be disappearing from our world?
A recent opening in the city of Sudbury, Ontario (where its even colder) was packed with people who had smart things to say. How could art be disappearing from our world?

Our culture is in transition and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes things get crappy before they get better. Artists know this better than anyone. I can think of no other profession where you continue to work on something that you begin to hate until its finished not out of spite but actually out of a perverse sense of joy. The challenge to bring meaning to art is the worst and best part of the creative process; we live for it actually.

The first Atlantic article is interesting albeit a bit whiny and preachy in its assessment of the world we live in now and how technology is eroding the singular journey of the artist which was once heroic. What became the sticking point to some was the statement that 10,000 hours of work is less important today than 10,000 contacts. The idea that expertise is gone in the digital world of collaborations and sharing. I personally liked his point that patrons have become customers which is a whole different breed of person. I’m not in love with the article but I do love the fact that it was written, passed around and discussed because his points are valid and have more truth to them then not.

The second article was by my friend so disclaimer right now: I really love her take on things. Art 2.0 wasn’t a treatise on the state of things but an outright fiery satire on the art world we live in here today in Canada. The world envisioned by my colleague was one in which China had bought all our artistic content, ideas about what visual content gets made was now being decided in other countries, books were printed based on Facebook LIKES, and the galleries were being rolled into huge mega malls with sports and shopping – it goes on, it’s horrifying and completely brilliant.

What both these articles, wonderfully realized and written tell me is that people are not only worried about the state of things all art but that they are also angry. They are angry because we are not supposed to oppose progress, we are supposed to adapt and believe that change will ultimately come with salvation, and it increasingly seems like it won’t. By criticizing technology or the corporate ethos that we accepted years ago when we decided that art should be a business, we are reduced to seeming like old world patriarchs clinging to an older version of a ‘gilded age’. This isn’t true but because mainstream media and much of the social media universe doesn’t value thinking and research, we are sectioned into a feed or trend labelled: #oldfashionedarttypes

It isn’t that we are lamenting the end of something or futzing over technology, it’s that we’ve become medieval once again; wealth is held by a few, tribal conflicts cause havoc, poverty is inappropriate and illegal, education not a priority and our communications are doled out by a secret silicon society where code is gospel.

It all reminds me of that hopeful scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail (satire now one of our greatest tools) when King Arthur stops to talk to a couple digging in earth, he calls them peasants, nicely and they respond, “I didn’t know we had a King. I thought we were an autonomous collective.” We aren’t peasants or slaves but getting organized and this is real progress.

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2 thoughts on “State of the Arts – we’re not peasants, we’re an autonomous collective”

  1. I’d love to make a meaningful comment here, Vic, but after watching 6+ hours of the conference on “Artist as Debtor” yesterday my brain is fried.
    “We aren’t peasants or slaves but getting organized and this is real progress.” – Indeed !!

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