[Paleopsych] The Age (au): Curiouser and curiouser
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Thu May 12 00:43:29 UTC 2005
Curiouser and curiouser
Robyn Archer, former Melbourne festival director, spoke on art and
curiosity on Saturday night.
The arts must ask its audience to throw out a lifeline to curiosity in
all things in order to survive and prosper. By Robyn Archer.
In my essay "The Myth of the Mainstream" (Currency Press, April 2005),
I talk about curiosity being amongst the finest virtues of humankind
and how this was revealed to me when I looked back trying to recall
the first symptoms of my father's frontal lobe dementia: I eventually
felt that it was this ever-curious man's loss of the vital stream of
The curiosity factor has become a potent metaphor for me. I can't help
thinking that once the blinkers are on, there's only one road
ahead-and that leads to death.
Anyone who approaches art, or virtually anything, only wishing to
defend their own tastes, anyone who won't look at something because
they fear it won't be to their liking, anyone who bags something
before they've seen it, might as well be dead already. They've lost
their sense of curiosity. They're winding down.
One of the most powerful, and perhaps accidental, foes of the
preservation and stimulation of curiosity is that all-pervasive factor
of contemporary life - marketing. I say "accidental" because at the
start of the 20th century, and at various peaks throughout that time,
when waves of social reform produced increasing numbers of citizens
(first in the developed and then the developing nations) who
experienced a phenomenon at that point only known by wealthy, that is,
leisure time and spare cash, marketing itself was a new and exciting
tool that existed precisely to stimulate curiosity.
But as early as the mid-19th-century snake-oil merchants were derided
so thoroughly that their profession entered the vernacular, and in the
1950s the same happened to used car salesmen.
These days, when marketing is a career, one still sees the altruistic
basis of the trade in the very best of the advertising branch of
marketing, when the skill of art directors, graphic and video artists
and especially concept developers, grab our attention and stimulate
our curiosity enough to take the next step and try to satisfy that
curiosity about an available product, be that new technology, food,
insurance, entertainment or art.
The difficulty for art, unlike entertainment, is that it is hard to
commodify and therefore hard to market. And the very art most likely
to stimulate the sense of curiosity is always the most fragile.
Marketing when applied to the arts is at best crude and at worst
destructive. Hype may get your audience to the shimmering waters of
art, but the audience will not necessarily drink .
In precisely the same way as one needs to address the people at this
time, not the politicians, the arts must go outside the segmented and
ultimately blinkered nature of targeted marketing, and ask its
potential audience (which I believe knows no bounds) to throw out a
lifeline to curiosity in all things.
If ordinary people are scared of the arts, a highly disputed piece of
parochial, reductive and selective marketing research, then our job as
artists and commissioners of new work is not to try to persuade them
to enjoy a particular piece of art, or even art itself, but to ask
them to live again fully in all things, and put an end to lives which
are driven madly by the false ideals, objects, and icons which
marketing itself has created.
This achieved, audiences would come thirsty to art and ready to drink
deeply. There would scarcely be a need for marketing in the arts.
Finding the means to achieve that is the challenge.
Until that renewal is complete, the parallel universe of the small
symbolic following for art must be maintained, and new works from
artists vigorously commissioned and nurtured in the knowledge that the
ripple effect of the creative lightning bolt will always remain an
important part of what artists, their commissioner-presenters, and the
informed critique that broadcasts these actions, always do when that
tripartite cultural activity is in a state of grace and good health.
This is an extract of Robyn Archer's Alfred Deakin Innovation Lecture
"Imagination and the Audience: Commissioning for Creativity" delivered
on Saturday at the Melbourne Town Hall.
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