They say the sun an-a shines for all,
But-a yin some people world, it never shine at all.
– Bob Marley
In most fields, money and technology are good things. For many in the art world, the one-two punch is staggering.
Ben Davis, in his post “The Crisis in Art and What It Means to Write About It”, wrote:
If you somehow took a poll of critics and writers about the state of contemporary art, “excited” wouldn’t be the first word you’d hear. Pretty much everyone agrees that things are dire. Money is drowning out everything.
To his credit, and if I can sum up the takeaways from the piece, he acknowledges that money and technology are making this an interesting time for interesting conversations.
Destabilizing Forces At Work
The reason critics and writers would not be excited about the contemporary art world right now is that money and technology are destabilizing a field that worked pretty well, for a while, for a small group of people.
Now, any asshole with a smartphone can share and comment on art (some would say review or even curate). To make matters worse, said asshole can actually create images (some would say art).*
To make matters even worser . . . It doesn’t even have to be a smartphone any more. It can be a mildly intelligent phone.
Speaking of phones, I’m reminded of the telephone operator crisis in the 1970s and 1980s. Never heard of it? If you were a telephone switchboard operator, those twin angels of death – money and technology – were at work then too.
In 1970, there were more than 420,000 switchboard operators. Within years, hundreds of thousands of them had lost their jobs. Meanwhile, more people were making more calls, more cheaply, and making them faster.
Interestingly, today, telephone switching technology isn’t thought of as a job killer.
The Specter of Decentralization
Ben sounds open to the changes we’re watching in the contemporary art world and looking at them honestly. After all, more money usually means more people interested. And, technology means more people getting more things done faster. You may not like all those things being produced, but lucky for guys like Ben, it means more stuff to write about.
Where it sucks for guys not like Ben, is that with a decentralization of influence underway, the power that was once in the hands of the few is in a whole lot of other hands. With mildly intelligent phones.
* The any asshole phrasing is significant for me personally. In a conversation with a DJ once, he told me angrily that “any asshole with a laptop is a DJ now.” He said this while his dual iPod beats were falling out of synch.
Updated February 25, 2016.