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Michael Fallon, from The Chronicle of Artistic Failure, has an interesting post at mnartists.org about the new generation of artists emerging and their reactions to critics and to just about anything that questions their artistic authority.

I thought his observations were interesting, albeit slightly inflammatory at times:

“First, it was odd that these students from blink-and-miss-it Carleton were, for the most part, calmer and more relaxed—smug almost—than any twenty-year-old has a right to be in front of such a large audience. This is especially true considering the event, a notable international film festival, was older—at 26 years—than these kids were. But then, this may not be so unusual after all, given the numerous reports from those in-the-know which suggest that most kids of this age—those of the so-called Generation Y, born after about 1980—have come to believe that attention and fame is their very due. According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center, 51% of 18- to 25-year-olds identified “to be famous” as one of their top two goals. This was above “to help people who need help” (30%), “to be leaders in their community” (22%), and “to become more spiritual” (10%), but behind the number one choice (“to get rich,” 81%).

Finally, it was clear to me that the abundant self-confidence on display by these kids wasn’t necessarily evidence of skill or achievement. The film they made was actually not all that good; it was not revealing, not at all introspective, and it made little logical sense.”.

He brings up many valid points and confesses that on occasions, he has found himself at the receiving end of unjust irate reactions from those artists whose works he criticizes.

From the article:

““Young people today,” writes Twenge, “have been consistently taught to put their own needs first and to focus on feeling good about themselves.” She further claims that, despite what you might expect, such self-pampering has done the group nothing but harm. Twenge cites numerous studies which offer evidence for a host of problems among her generational cohorts: a decline in manners and regard for social rules; a disengagement with civic concerns; a tendency toward cheating and an antipathy toward authority; a strong sense of entitlement and inability to take criticism; high levels of drug use; loss of faith in the rewards of responsibility and hard work; increasing sense of loneliness and an inclination toward shorter relationships and sexual promiscuity; rising levels of depression, anxiety, panic, and nervous breakdown; and suicide rates twice what they were in 1950.

Despite its myriad problems, this young generation also has—tellingly, and incongruously—a remarkably high sense of self-regard, or what Twenge calls a “cotton candy sense of self with no basis.” In psychological terms, according to Twenge, her generation is afflicted by abnormally high rates of “clinical narcissism,” a pathology with numerous manifestations (many of which are listed above)”.

I immediately remembered another article I read this week, in “Psychology Today” about The Plight of the Little Emperors, on the subject of China’s “only child” culture. These Chinese children who are now coming of age and, in the author’s words, “expect the world”.

“Chinese parents bemoan their only child’s desire for instant gratification, excessive consumption, and a life free of hardship, but such complaints are just proof that the policy worked: The children are like little Americans.

and

“Since the policy’s inception, the Chinese have worried that the extreme combination of discipline and indulgence would result in maladjusted kids, self-centered brats who can’t take criticism and don’t understand sharing. Asked if he wished he’d had siblings, one 22-year-old from Sichuan province replied, “Does this mean everything I have would have to be cut in half or shared? No, I don’t want that.””

These two articles, discussing two seemingly opposite cultures, actually highlight rather similar phenomenons within the same generation, namely the apparent sense of entitlement, hedonistic approach to life, difficultly dealing with criticism, etc. I cannot help but wonder if this is the result of globalization and the marketing approach we’ve seen for the past 20 years or so. Generation “Me” is not the result of a vacuum, an isolated development but rather, the result of many external influences, amongst which might be consumerism and the social aspiration of consumption as a defining factor of our personalities. Such trend has not emerged only in the western world, but on a global basis, with brands released everywhere simultaneously and campaigns only slightly tailored to local cultures. Also, worth noting, is fame as a social aspiration. Is this related to small/ local communities losing appeal and the appearance of the “global stage”? When we grow up with the impression that the whole world is a village, how could we possible aspire to less than global recognition?

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next decade or two, as this generation matures and actually exercises leadership and drives the decision making process.

I recently wrote on the subject of Museums and the communities they serve and, coincidentally, today, I found an extremely interesting article on this same subject on the excellent blog Museum 2.0.

This is a must read for cultural enterprises that would like to start taking steps in the social media arena.

From the article:

If you get people in a museum (or library) for WHATEVER reason, chances are they’re going to notice the exhibits sometime. And hopefully, start to value them”.

and:

The key to these benefits is not the volume of online content produced but its reach. Don’t look at the number of videos, photos, or reviews. Look at the number of views (how many times each has been accessed). The Ontario Science Center YouTube meetup didn’t just spawn hundreds of videos before, during, and after the event. Each of those videos has hundreds or thousands of viewers. Some of the videos have as many as 35,000 views. And while not all of the videos mention their host by name (in fact, few do), the museum venue is frequently present in related text and links. Plus, folks who attended the event link to other videos shot at the museum, such as this “888 favorite” (shot in 2006) of someone using an exhibit. Number of views? 170,000 and counting.”.

This is, in my opinion, the future of any cultural institution that wants to be part of a community. Art should not about some detached view from the outside, it should be part of our lives, a fundamental component of our social interactions. For me, art is about the aesthetics that shape our world view and make us richer as a result. I might be a Utopian, but if art is worth anything, it should be for its power to change lives. Once someone has been exposed to the beauty of human creativity in any of its forms, they cannot go back to ignoring that side of humanity, and if we are lucky, they might start exploring their own creative sides as well.

Jornadas Culturales Nacion Apache

Jornadas Culturales Nacion Apache

this is where I would be going during the months of September and October. Alas, I’ll be gravitating between Amsterdam and Abu Dhabi during those weeks.

This is the type of event that can make me feel really homesick every now and then.

Last week YouTube unveiled a new channel, The Screening Room. I hadn’t had the chance to view any of the featured films so far, but that changed yesterday, when I finally got to spend considerable time checking them.

And what a wonderful concept this is! I first found out about it through Cool Hunting. Their review of “4960” was stellar, so that was enough to get me interested:

One of the must-sees is from New York Based director, Wing-Yee Wu. Her haunting short, “4960” conveys more chilling emotion and evocative story-teling in 14 minutes than many directors manage in two hours. Shot during her graduate film studies at NYU, the film is set during the siege in Sarajevo and follows a young couple as they attempt to communicate from two different sides of the world. Raised in Sweden by Chinese parents, Wu did her undergraduate studies at Central Saint Martins College in London. With such a unique, international background, her work conveys the universality of emotion that transcends barriers of both language and geography.

They got it right. The film is mesmerizing and of such high quality. As a matter of fact, the whole selection is a feast for the eyes. YouTube is up to something big with this new channel. I wonder when we will see complete feature films in high definition, opening the door to a new world of indie film distribution. This is a service to keep an eye on, both for consumers of good quality films and for directors and producers who would like to reach new audiences. I wonder if we are witnessing the baby steps of a new digital distribution era.

Thoughts on Happiness

Just found a pretty odd event taking place in The Netherlands on the first week of November, the first Thoughts on Happiness Conference. I thought it was interesting that they will be exploring happiness both from scientific research and “daily life” perspectives covering topics like “Happiness in the workplace” or “An evolutionary approach to quality of life”.

The reason I find the event a bit “odd” (due to lack of a better word) is because it’s so non-Dutch to explore these topics. For people outside The Netherlands, it may not be apparent, but for those of us who have spent a considerable length of time here, this event appears to be a significant detour from the usual Calvinist mentality that more or less shapes this country’s sociological landscape. It is by no means a negative trait, just that normally, happiness is not a subject discussed in the open by Dutch people.

I am of course, slightly disappointed that there is no session to explore how the arts and related activities can contribute to social and individual happiness, but this is the first event of its kind in The Netherlands as far as I know, so there is a chance it might be included in future conferences. Alas, the conference fee is way too steep for me to just attend out of curiosity, but I will at least, be keeping an eye on their blog, which covers some interesting matters as well.

I know this is not an art critic’s blog, but this article at The Guardian upset me enough to have to comment on it.

In it, Peter Conrad sets to more or less smash the books of former collaborators and friends Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim. What bothers me is not that he dislikes the books. After all, taste is well, subjective. It’s the personal vendetta-like tone that he employs throughout the whole article what bothers me. There isn’t an ounce of objective criticism in his piece:

“Beyond expressing pious hopes about Utopia, Barenboim has little progress to report. Anecdotes are tediously recycled; the title of his book should have been ‘Everything Is Repeated’. An insubstantial volume is filled out with a random sampling of interviews and journalistic articles, which supply inadvertent glimpses of the man behind the missionary. The conductor is more than an evangelist”.

and then this:

“Barenboim, who says that he reads Spinoza in his dressing room during intervals, worries about ‘musical ethics’ and fusses over ‘the moral responsibility of the ear’. I’m not sure that a sense organ can carry such a burden; we don’t ask our penises to possess a conscience”.

Now, I cannot believe a critic could be so daft as to ignore the power of metaphor, but he gets even more juvenile by attacking Said on account of bad orthography! If anything, shouldn’t Said’s editor be held accountable for that?!

And then he gives away the true reason behind the trashing:

At least he commits no orthographic error when he casually refers to ‘the egregious Peter Conrad’. I guess he intended to insult me, but I’m happy to bask in a cack-handed compliment, since the dictionary says that the adjective means prominent, distinguished or, at worst, outrageous. No argument backs up the animadversion, so who can tell? If I’m on Said’s shit list, the company I keep is melodious; he considers Verdi to be a bad composer, sniffs at Bartók, patronises Alfred Brendel as a ‘decent, earnest’ dullard and derides Pavarotti as ‘a grotesque’. Said’s sloppiness matters because he enjoys pretending to be holier and higher-browed than the rest of us.

So, it is personal after all, isn’t it Mr. Conrad?

Perhaps art critics should no longer wonder why their positions are disappearing. The should look no further than Conrad’s pieces to understand why people might not be interested in what they have to say.

On an unrelated note, I will also be (cross)posting every now and then at NewInnergy, my business partner’s blog. Unlike Conrad, I’ll try to keep it civil, on topic and objective.

Generational Theater

A post by Brian Eno on The Long Now blog on a tradition in the Bavarian town of Oberammergau, where the whole town (really, including children, youth, etc… everyone who lives there) participates in a theater play, The Passion since 1634.

Brian Eno asks:

“I kept returning to this thought: what would it do to a community to have a tradition as long and as defining as that, to know from an early age that you were, probably throughout your life, going to be woven into this incredibly rich tapestry of time, spirituality, art and craft? What would it be like to be a child growing up there, to watch your parents and grandparents learning their lines and practicing their parts and building the sets and making the clothes? It must be so rich, such a powerful social binder and foundation”.

I cannot think of a better question to illustrate the way I feel when I attempt to help institutions or individuals create communities around the arts. I cannot think of a more poetic, powerful and inspiring way to explain why I do what I do. The technology we use might be new, but the effects it could have on the lives of those that participate could have a long and lasting impact, leaving an impression and imprint in people’s lives for years to come. These communities could be agents of real change. I do believe in that.

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