Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Whither the salon?

From a comment by Curtis Faville that caught my eye on John Gallaher's excellent blog,
Nothing to Say and Saying It:

I'm wondering what--if anything--was wrong with the old "salon" system, or the friendship system, or the editorial system--all of which pre-date the workshop system.

The great thing about private philanthropy is that it isn't democratic. I mean, if some rich person gives you money, you have no responsibility but to your own conscience. The "taste" part is nobody's business but the philanthropist's.

The problem with "public art"--of which the workshop system is an integral part--is that there must be the appearance of "fairness" and objective quality. As everyone knows, there's no such thing as objectivity in the media, and no such thing as objectivity in workshops. That includes the choice of instructors, the choice of students, the judging of work, and the familiar system of recommendation and promotion which institutions are designed to facilitate.

Art isn't fair. It isn't objective. It isn't respectable. It doesn't exist to make some people famous, or rich, or proud, or dignified.

1 comment:

Coirí Filíochta said...

My favourite online lit-critter, anytimefrances, created a deposit for Robert McCrums latest Guardian thread: The secret to creativity, writing that although the arts generally trundle along at all periods of history and in all societies it nonethelss seems there are certain times when they flourish in such a way as to generally astound historians and observers. The history of Athens is long and I think it has never been without its artists but there was a period when it flourished in a particular way that has made the art of the times icons of human accomplishment. I think that was under King Pericles who was a great patron. In England hardly anyone would find fault with the argument that during Elizabeth I's time, which produced S. was a particular time which has never been surpassed. In Ireland they refer to the 'renaissance' as being the period overseen by Yeats and his group, the rest of the 19th and 20th Cs producing only the more normal satisfying of markets.

So why these periods of exceptional creativity? I think politics has a lot to do with it and the productivity of a society. Societies tend I think to be very creative during periods of prosperity for the not unsurprising reason that artists will flourish when patrons have the money to reward them but the politics have to be liberal it seems to me from the past. Paris in the 1860s produced a host of writers and painters, and this coincided with the prosperity that resulted from the rebuilding and modernising of the city.

So it seems that conditions, of prosperity and liberal politics, create the right atmosphere for individuals to be productive creatively. Maybe in bad times great artists have lived and died without leaving any trace of their genius. There are times of prosperity and bad art as well as good and I think this blog is leaning towards the idea that what we've seen in recent decades is relative prosperity and art that is, not to be too harsh about it, not too good. Some things I've seen have been interesting and enjoyable but the odd good artist doesn't make the period a good one. I think many people are in dismay at some of the art, and many shake their heads at things put in formaldehyde which had the press groaning for a while, but really, can anyone say that anything really good has happened in say the past 60 years? It doesn't seem so.

Do we need to ask why this is? I think we do in times when perhaps some people think that not only is poetry dead but the novel too and many other art forms and this may be due to the influence of, and domination of media; maybe the place taken by art in past times has been taken in recent decades by the music industry and the sports, particularly soccer. People do watch tv an awful lot and are obsessed it seem by technology and I think that technology, although it can help art a little bit is really the death knell of the arts as they were known in the past.'