Monday, August 21, 2017

If Scott Timberg's book was Culture Crash, about the destructionof the creative class, some folks think it was precisely the creative class that partook of the destroying of the old economy ... cue up Jacobin

For a while I read Scott Timberg's blogging and journalism but I eventually gave up.  He's attempted to articulate how and why he thinks the United States went so far off the rails.

He's also written about what he's regarded as the destruction of the "creative class".  I'd never heard of this "creative class" before about roughly four years ago, maybe five.  For long-time readers of the blog you'll recall that there were far, far more compelling and interesting things in Puget Sound to document and consider than what Scott Timberg defined as the creative class for Wenatchee The Hatchet.

Plus, there were occasional reviews of the Timberg book that made it seem like the book wasn't something I'd find all that compelling.  Sure, other journalists writing about arts journalism could be reflexively sympathetic to Timberg's polemic and points but ...

One way of putting it is that if you lament the loss of the middle class and happen to be a Gen X'er who lost the kinds of jobs that middle class arts reporters were thinking they'd still have in this day and age you might have a bias toward feeling you lost a good thing because bad things happened for bad reasons.

Well ... depending on who you talk to the creative class was not so much the "victim" of the economic convulsions of the last fifteen years as a significant perpetrator of those convulsions. Not too surprisingly ... .


Everywhere creativity is expected to do the work that industry once did, sometimes explicitly. For a few months, a vast former warehouse in Manchester was emblazoned with the words “creativity, forged in Manchester on the anvil of the industrial revolution.” The warehouse now hosts “corporate events with an urban edge.” The United Nation’s Conference on Trade and Development has a “Creative Economy” unit, which values the market in “creative goods” at $547 billion.
Needless to say, these initiatives have not solved the structural problems that British cities face. The Sage, a vast concert venue built in Gateshead in 2004, exists just blocks away from desperate poverty.

The results of last year’s Brexit vote show that these communities have enjoyed neither the promised economic revival nor growing tolerance: Gateshead voted leave by 56 percent, and Hull, designated the official “Capital of Culture” in 2013, rejected the European Union by 68 percent. Art is not delivering the goods.

People without independent wealth struggle to make a living from writing or from music. ...

It doesn't seem to even be a question on the left as much as on the right whehter or not making a living from writing or music is something that even "should" be possible.  It may seem terrible to put it that way, and certainly there are those who regard the arts as not really being work.  But let's entertain the notion that the kind of downward mobility the United States has faced in the last twenty or so years is ultimately not reversible.  Let's play, if briefly, with an idea that only those born into middle class white privilege (or significantly above) will have the luxury of thinking they "should" be able to make a living in the arts. 

What leftist writers seem to skirt around is the possibility that global capitalism could manage to survive just fine without the legacies of the Western empires as we've known them.  Any rising (rather than declining) empires will do.  If the left wants to salvage a West that can be a more egalitarian network of social safety networks that still runs into the argument that our collective dependence on fossil fuels means even that "pie" of wealth is ultimately planet-consuming and unsustainable.

So the potential irony of the entertainment industry and its cumulative carbon footprint addressing the problems of carbon footprints may be great.

A century ago John Philip Sousa's worry was that it was precisely the music industry people that were going to end up gutting cultural activity by removing the middle ground of amateur musicianship that existed between those who produced music and those who enjoyed it (i.e. consumed it).  At a cultural level the entire entertainment industry gutted what in an earlier epoch might have played the role of a cultural middle class, i.e. the "middle class" of amateurs.  He may have been wrong about a number of things when he addressed his concerns about the then nascent music industry but it's possible he was on to something in saying it was the great body of amateurs making music because they love making music that truly defined a musical culture above and beyond the vocational musicians and music teachers.  If that has substance to it then the highest the high art of a culture can go will be measured less by where the "ceiling" of the high level achievements are and more by how high the "floor" is from the "ground" of a basically unmusical culture.   The middle tiers of the entertainment industry will be constrained by this, too, perhaps.  If we want higher highs we won't get there by telling people (in what seems to be the arguments of a John Borstlap) that we need to cultivate and promote high culture and focusing on that too exclusively.  We might want to "raise the floor" rather than lament that the gap between the ceiling and the floor is always big or too big. 

If people keep trying to solve the problems they perceive in the arts only at the professional and money-making levels they're probably going to keep on failing.  Paul Hindemith's complaint about American music education was that it seemed to be little good for doing more than teaching music teachers who would, in turn, teach more music teachers; he also complained that the signal failure of American musical pedagogy was promoting the idea that you or your kid could be the next Beethoven, as if that were simply a matter of your own will and the collective gumption of American ambition. 

But do Americans believe that?  That's not likely if we have books discussing geographies of genius and discussing the exigencies of socialization and education and geography that are conducive to innovation in the arts or technology.

Now maybe having always worked in service jobs or clerical work it's too easy to regard the creative class as most likely a symptom rather than a solution for what ails a post-industrial technocratic society.  It's hard not to agree with something in "You are not an artisan" about how people today value conspicuous high-status production over inconspicuous practical production, aka celebrating the successful bard over the average chimney sweep.  Vestigial romanticism still seems to be with us to the extent that people want to celebrate a Mozart or a Beethoven, musicians born into musical families.  These are the profound and daring composers who have been preferred since the Romantic era to the work of Haydn--sure, music historians would say you have to respect that Haydn defined and consolidated the idioms that Mozart and Beethoven would experimentally expand but he tends to get presented as the one who codified the rules that later, greater composers would break.   This was not how Haydn was perceived in his own era and music theorists have been stymied by the fact that whatever they have tried to teach as the textbook approach to sonata forms was rarely how Haydn chose to write his music.   Whether in the arts or in business it seems we idealize and idolize innovation over consolidation but finding ways to responsibly consolidate and stabilize the good things we see around us might be the more ... responsible approach. 

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