(Note: This post has been updated (1) as of 5:08 PM Eastern on 12 Mar. See below.)
ArtsJournal editor Douglas McLennan has opened a five-day (March 7-11), weblog-format "public conversation" on ArtsJournal with the question,
Has the emphasis on practical benefits warped our arts infrastructure, and caused us to neglect the need to strengthen demand for the arts? Have we neglected what "Gifts of the Muse" terms the "missing link": the individual, private experience of the arts that begins with early engagement and intense involvement, and that is the gateway to other, more public benefits?
Or more briefly, Is there a Better Case for the Arts? To answer the question, Mr. McLennan invited ten experts in the field of arts promotion and funding (and one concert performer: the violinist, Midori) to discuss the issue, and invited reader comment via a weblog comments function on what they had to say.
Although others seem not to have had a problem with it, I couldn't make that comments function work for me, and as an eMail to Mr. McLennan on the matter has received no reply, I thought I'd simply post my comment here.
One of ArtsJournal's invited participants is Dr. Joli Jensen, a professor in the Faculty of Communication at the University of Tulsa, and the author of several books in the field of American cultural and social thought, her most recent, Is Art Good for Us? Beliefs about High Culture in American Life, questioning our taken-for-granted assumptions about the transformational power of high culture (I haven't read the book, and am here merely quoting from Dr. Jensen's bio as posted on ArtsJournal). Her first post in the ArtsJournal conversation had this to say at its close:
In the end, we are all fans, just of different forms of culture. For art fans, the task is to help people understand why we love the stuff we love. But it is also to become curious about, and respectful of, those who seem immune to the forms that give us such pleasure, and who instead find meaning and value in forms that give us the creeps. That’s where I think we need to begin.
As readers of this weblog know, the subject of the present public conversation on ArtsJournal has been something of an idée fixe on this weblog from its very beginnings, and over the past year I've said pretty much all I have to say on the subject. I'll remark here only that Dr. Jensen's above quoted notions, should they be acted upon in earnest, would mark the beginnings of a precipitous slide down the most slippery of slopes to wholesale prole-pandering, and constitute a potent ground plan for the enervation and emasculation of any of the arts of high culture to which it was applied. As I priorly wrote, in part, in one of the very first posts on this weblog (a post that concerned itself with classical music specifically):
During the past decade or so, one has read often of attempts made by various classical (or "serious", or "art") music entities symphony orchestras, chamber groups, recital organizers, even opera companies to gain a larger audience for their "product", and it's nothing short of depressing to observe that, virtually without exception, they've all, to greater or lesser degree, pursued a model that's not merely wrongheaded, but positively suicidal. That model, in keeping with the rabidly populist and promiscuously equalitarian Zeitgeist of our era, and using promotional techniques employed in the world of mass entertainment, has at its core the concept of reaching out to The People; or using less euphemistic and less generous terminology, the concept of pandering to proles. While such a concept is perfectly appropriate and spot-on in the world of mass entertainment, it's an ultimate kiss of death in the world of classical music for the simple and should-be (but astonishingly, largely isn't) obvious reason that, much as one wishes it were not the case, classical music is not, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever even marginally be, an object of mass or even widespread appeal no matter how vigorously and assiduously it may be promoted. Classical music is, by its very nature, a fundamentally elite enterprise, and should never be viewed or promoted as anything other.
One of the pernicious aims of the current leveling Zeitgeist is the dissolution of all hierarchies, both natural and culturally determined without distinction. And while that aim is doomed ultimately to failure, the casualties it will produce, and has already produced, along its doomed way will take whole generations to restore to good health, provided, that is, the casualties have not been utterly destroyed by the murderous onslaught.
That thinking applies, mutatis mutandis, to all the arts of high culture, and a willful refusal to recognize and accept the truth embodied in that thinking, and a refusal to address the problem posed in ArtsJournal's present public conversation in the light of that truth, can result only in an abject failure to effectively address the problem at all.
But that kind of truth is anathema today, and I hold out no hope that anyone connected with the present public conversation over at ArtsJournal will take any notice of it whatsoever.
Update (5:08 PM Eastern on 12 Mar): Daniel Green of The Reading Experience comments. I assure Mr. Green and others that by my calling classical music (and, by extension, all the arts of high culture) an elite enterprise by nature I did not intend to suggest, "that those who appreciate serious art are for that reason, or because of some preexisting set of characteristics, a superior caste." I meant precisely that classical music and the arts of high culture are elite enterprises by nature in that the "audience [for those arts will always be] 'small' or 'self-selected'.”