Monday, December 21, 2009

The art of a decade

As we wrap up the first decade of the 21st century, there is some interesting (albeit inevitable) thinking about what were the trends that defined the last 10 years.

A very nice article in the WSJ highlights the “un-trend”, the lack of a single artistic trend that identifies, defines and shapes our dearly departed decade. The writer attributes this to the inability of a critical mass to form around a single thought or movement, similar to what may have formed in artistic centers this time last century…

The key factor in stylistic evolution was geographical concentration: One of the reasons that so many turn-of-the-century painters embraced cubism was that an unusually high percentage of them lived in Paris and knew one another, just as jazz took shape in New Orleans rather than Detroit.

Another problem is a coherent mass media that once helped define trends way back when…

Would Andy Warhol have become an art-world superstar if magazines like Time hadn't proclaimed that he "best plays the part of what a pop artist might expectably be"? I doubt it, just as I doubt that The Beatles would have taken America by storm without the help of Ed Sullivan.

I made a similar point about the lack of an authoritative voice in the mass media when I contemplated the next Cronkite

The main argument I have against this article is that it is too soon to make a judgment that there is no artistic trend to define Decade: 1, Century: 21. I suspect that the various romanti-cubi-surreal-isms that we assign other eras were only obvious in retrospect, after the decade had well passed-on.

The Economist makes the point that the real winner is the blockbuster, which is still able to corral people to one place around one screen, but these blockbusters do not a trend define. (Can’t find the link now, just go to and hunt around for the link if you’re interested.)

We are living in an era of fractured audiences and fractured art. What will be interesting is that someday (maybe in this decade) someone will be able to present a huge big (and sustainable) idea across the fractured mediascape.

The word “sustainable” is important because right now we get a lot of huge ideas on our Facebooktwitteryoutube page, that are big, exciting but ultimately fleeting (Susan Boyle anyone… and yes, I know she has an album out).

So who will present this huge multiplatform idea that stays with us? I have no idea, but it will happen. Just as the universe expands and contracts, so will the mediaspace. Now it is expanding across different ideas, technologies and genres, and that’s cool. But some sort of cosmic gravity will begin to pull that together someday and the result will be a new way of consuming all the media we’ve created.

Until that time, I’ll leave the final word with the author:

That un-trend is the only identifiable one to have emerged in contemporary American culture. As every smart pollster knows, we live in a deeply divided country, one in which not enough people agree about anything to allow artistic trends to flourish. That's neither good nor bad -- it just is. And it isn't going away.

Technology and the End of Trend

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