Art is at an interesting stage these days.
While creative expression continues to flourish, we have unparalleled, on-demand access to nearly any work we want. Watch on Netflix a timeless film at 2 PM on a Thursday. Browse the revered paintings of the 19th century through a few clicks of a mousepad. Stream pioneering jazz followed by today’s pop hits followed by 70s disco all on a device that fits in your pocket.
And do all these things without even considering how mind-boggling it is that we can!
Today, the consumer has the Louvre, the Met, and the libraries of film and music at his or her fingertips.
And, all things considered, we are fortunate. For the masses to have access to what the privileged few once relished is a good thing. Art is meant to enrich us all.
But, there’s another side to this story. As the waters rise, as we all have access to (on a relative scale) all art, saturation occurs. Maybe we stop losing our appreciation for art. Perhaps we take for granted the skill, determination, and effort put in to create a piece. It could be we lose our excitement and depth of connection to the work, as we don’t have that anticipation from waiting in line at a museum or a record store.
In other words, as art becomes more and more “normal” and ubiquitous, perhaps we risk it becoming experientially less special.
There is, however, a saving grace, one that can’t be dulled, duplicated, pirated, or eroded: the live performance has existed from the dawn of art, and will endure as the true heart of it.
You see, you can hear a song through your headphones, but sitting five rows from the artist, experiencing the song on that particular day, with that particular crowd, and with all the other completely unique components in that space, can only be received by those present. Even if the performance is recorded, the live experience is only at that moment. It’s come and gone, having passed through only the lucky few there.
You can Google the masterpieces of any painter you want, but staring at the canvas they beautified, knowing their hand and brush forever transformed a surface into the breathing world before your eyes simply cannot be glossed on a webpage.
I’ve had the privilege of performing at the Timucua Arts Foundation in Orlando, FL, where as I gave a concert with music, a painter shared the stage and created their work simultaneously. Hearing those songs later on a CD, or seeing that painting displayed the next day, can never transmit the experience of creation the audience witnessed there and then.
It’s a very satisfying notion if you think about it. Art is in its most powerful and stable form when it’s boiled down to its bare elements. No matter how many modes of deliverance or platforms come our way, there is no replacement for hearing a person bang a drum while others dance around a fire.
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