Over the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of arts & culture blogs pop-up, gain notoriety, then slowly drift off to another niche or focus their efforts on other aspects of the social scene. Yet what has caught my attention the most over the last decade or so is not the fancy WOO themes or sidebar advertising that makes each art & culture blogger their own special storefront on the internet, but how each blogger determines what they’re writing about is actually considered “culture.”
When you look at popular websites such as The Culture Trip or Hyperallergic, you see a lot of pieces on the typical stalwarts of culture: museums, music, film, theater, etc. But what is it about those certain creations that fill those exhibitions, ornate venues and heritage sites that would be considered culture? What makes a concert by noted violinist Joshua Bell deemed “culture,” but not a concert by Ice Cube? Why is a gallery showing in Soho something people brag about attending, but not the picture you Instagrammed last week of a performer painting with juggling spray cans in Times Square?
For now, let’s ignore the social and political influences of such a loaded term as “culture,” but let’s focus on the term itself for a moment: What does it mean to be cultured?
I consider myself to be a cultured person, but I could easily hear someone insist that throwing money at socially acceptable forms of art is not the true path to a cultured lifestyle or an enlightened mindset. Sure. I’ve oohed and ahhed at the elbow of greats like Chita Rivera and Savion Glover. Art hangs from the walls of my home — some of which I’ve painted, I can pontificate on the brilliance of Noir Nouveau artists like Ebony G. Patterson and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and discuss the similarities between films directed by Steve McQueen and François Truffaut.
OK. That last one’s a stretch, but my point is: If someone were to approach me and asked about my “culture cred,” how is it I know exactly what interests to talk about and what hobbies to shy the conversation away from? Why do I know to gush about Jessica Lange’s much-deserved Tony-nominated performance in A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, but gloss over the equally extraordinary performance of A.J. Styles and Roman Reigns at WWE’s Extreme Rules PPV? One is the epitome of erudition, the other shunned by mainstream society as low-brow and unsophisticated.
It’s questions like these that drive me to label myself as a fraud at times. The last thing I want to be associated with is propping up the status quo or playing to a stereotype, but is it a simple question of believing yourself to be cultured? Or must you have the acceptance of your social circle to validate that label?
Would a cultured person who truly appreciates art in its many forms simply follow the crowd and never report on those unchallenged and acceptable constructs that — albeit amazing at times — are safe for consumption? Can you be cultured and provocative? Or more importantly, can you be cultured and provocative without looking like you’re trying too hard?
I suppose the art world has always had its share of poseurs. And when we turn our gazes inward, we always find a moment or three where we can admit that we enjoyed something simply because others would think kinder of us for liking all “the right things.” In the end, we’ve all played the poseur for the sake of acceptance.
But blogging about culture is different. There’s a certain level of credibility expected if you want others to listen. So ostensibly, every art and culture blog is displaying that culture cred and saying “I know what I’m talking about because I know what culture is.”
To critique a system is to become a part of it. And as art and culture bloggers, we have to question if our attempt to brand ourselves as a part of the cultured elite is equally damaging to those avenues that aren’t receiving the attention they deserve because we’re playing to the audience who expects culture to be found in a museum or historical site.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do consider myself a person with a profound respect and appreciation for art and culture. And that’s enough for me, but I would be remiss to ignore the fact that those beyond my circle of family and friends would never know to seek me out for that knowledge. So I can hardly judge art and culture bloggers for preaching to the choir if they’re trying to not only establish their credibility in the crowded marketplace of online journalism, but also attempting to make a living at it.
This summer, I’ve decided to try a little experiment here at Incandescere. I’ll continue to blog about all those beautiful and socially accepted forms of art and culture that the gatekeepers bless with their approval, but I’ll also blog about those events, pieces and performances that others might consider too low class or unworthy of being called art. From wrestling matches to stand-up comedy to impromptu acrobatics on the subway, I’ll spend the summer penning the delights and conceits of these creative gems, despite the lack of a rubber stamp labeling them as culture.
I hope you stick around for the show. 🙂
Do you consider yourself cultured?
How did you know?
And if you’re a blogger, do you see yourself supporting the accepted preconceptions of art or attempting to subvert them?