Where does your culture come from?

The general trajectory of art in the 20th century (at least in the US) was toward centralization. A cultural mainstream came to dominate in multiple domains, as new media enabled easier propagation of art to mass audiences. Examples of these mainstreams include television, where everyone was watching the same national networks, music, with mega-popstars such as Michael Jackson, and film, with the dominance of Hollywood and the blockbuster model. The upshot of this is that art gradually became reframed as something consumed by an audience rather than something participated in by everyone.

In this paradigm, even if you want to create and participate, the expectation is that you try to reach the widest audience possible with your art. Mass reach is simply what success looks like. This thinking drives many aspiring actors & film directors to Hollywood every year, as well as musicians to New York, LA, or Nashville, etc. Talent gets concentrated in these centers of culture, and their respective reputations as centers of culture increase, reinforcing the cycle.

Photo credit: 4 Surya Garden

The alternative is what you might call the “bloom where you’re planted” approach. Some artists will strive to create a scene where there is none, gathering like minds around them and building up a vision for something different. There’s a lot of potential in this approach to provide something the mainstream lacks by its nature: diversity. Lively artistic cultures playing out everywhere all the time can generate a lot more ideas than a single center of culture.

The internet also offers opportunity for lateral exchange of these ideas between artists and scenes. Before the internet, an artist or genre would have to make it into the mainstream before someone across the country or world could know about it. Now, that exchange can happen directly, allowing scenes to enrich one another without reference to some encompassing mainstream.

Do you make any art? Do you participate in a local artistic scene? Do you find that the scene is influenced by larger centers of culture? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​ctrl-c.club.