Thursday, September 24, 2015

Art and the World of Direct Connect

So, last week I had a few experiences with the new economy. I signed up for an online course from Philosopher Peter Rollins. It takes place in November, so I'm not sure all the specifics as yet, but for $25 I'm getting (along with 100 others or so) 7.5 hours of interactive time with a pretty fascinating thinker. It's going to be a mixture of lecture and Q & A on his latest book, which is sort of the conclusion of a five book project that's covered the better part of the last decade and really helped to reinforce my own thinking in a lot of ways. Rollins is constantly challenging just about everyone who claims faith of any kind of dig deeper and examine what we believe and what it means for life in new and unique ways.

Then, on Friday night, for just $10, I (and about 100 others) were treated to 90 minutes of musician Derek Webb, playing and talking from his living room via the interwebs. He took requests and interacted with the relatively small audience and is going to start doing similar broadcasts regularly. Derek Webb is a fantastic songwriter and one who inspires my own writing with his creativity and skill. He's an evolving spiritual thinker who provided and important soundtrack to much of my own growth and maturation during college years and after.

Both of these things are quite mundane for the world we live in now, but they're pretty revolutionary ways for artists and thinkers to not only have their work engaged and critiqued, but to make a living. Concerts are really starting to price out a lot of people (myself included) with their associated costs and expenses - this is a great evolution, allowing someone like Derek Webb to interact more directly with listeners.

For Rollins, who can only speak so often and in so many places, but perhaps has a widespread, eclectic audience, he can bring people together in ways that are mutually beneficial and cost effective for both parties. I'm not sure exactly what all these possibilities hold for the future, but it's exciting to know and experience the new possibilities.

It's gotten me thinking more about art and it's place in society. For a while now we've (the collective, societal 'we've') really only valued art for what it fetches in the open market. Someone may be very talented, but they're a good artist if they can sustain themselves with their art. It's led to this crazy market for fine art and, as mentioned, crazy expensive concerts. Even those artist who tour constantly or sustain themselves with niche communities of support, it's often a day-to-day, week-to-week existence often supplemented with something else they do.

We've lost the real, intangible value of art in society.

Artists help us put expression to emotions and thoughts we can't, on our own, express. They give us pause to imagine things differently. They inspire us to live different stories in the world. Most importantly, they present reality in such a way that we can move beyond the intellectual to some deeper, visceral understanding. Artists put a mirror in front of our lives, challenging us to see ourselves in new and different ways.

It doesn't always pay off. Sometimes good art isn't worth a dime because it's not entirely comfortable or welcomed. This means art is rarely appreciated for its own sake - for its contribution to society. When politicians talk about budget cuts, the Arts are often the first to go. Symphonies and museums are working hard to build self-sustaining endowments, expecting an inevitable end of public support.

The fact those endowments are, in places, succeeding is testament to the reality that some people still value art for more than it's monetary worth - and are willing to put some monetary value on the intangible benefit it provides to all of us, individually and as a collective. Hopefully this new direct connect-ability will provide a better way for our society to recognize and support the artists among us - that it becomes not just a benefit to me, sitting on my couch, but to the artists themselves and the larger world.

*I include Rollins in this conversation about art, because as much as he's incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable, he is ultimately a storyteller. His best work is framed narratively, using his extensive background to inform the larger art with which he teaches and attempts to live.

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