Saturday, October 4, 2008

more of the same (more of the same, for at least the next three weeks, as Ian Scholes used to say)

I woke this morning thinking about Bill Boling’s images of stuff for sale in New Zealand and in the good ole U.S.A., and how New Zealand’s long sense of exceptionalism outdoes the United States’ in terms of its historical simplicity: The treaty of Waitangi was adhered to or violated, the country grew and matured, and eventually it was acknowledged that the Maori have gotten the short end of the stick rather more often than not in the development of a nation that for many years was mostly a replica of Britain, with the addition of picturesque glaciers and a parallel Polynesian culture.

But the wars in which New Zealand participated were always far away, and even when the Pacific War came to its doorstep, the doorstep was still in less immediate danger of suffering a home invasion than in, say, Australia.

And the deceptively placid state of ethnic relations spared the place from the paradoxes of all those Pacific colonies where the chiefs or kings (depending on what foreign word was being used that year to describe the local dignitaries) often enough invited in the colonizers, on the grounds that organized exploitation was better than incessant piracy and raids by freebooters looking for manpower for the coconut plantations.

Except in ward politics in a few American cities, Americans haven’t been used to dealings in which the big power to the west was implored to conquer the country because it was less rapacious than the big power to the east, or ones in which the now-dominant ethnicity was invited in to protect the locals against the sea raiders, or ones in which the contending ethnic groups come not in dualities, but in sets of fourteen or twenty.

Now Americans are having to get used to the sorts of variables that other parts of the world have had to deal with for millennia, and we don’t like it very much. You bet we don’t.

The sense of rapidly sliding variables is rising in the Atlanta art scene, as well.

The scene has developed recently in ways even more splintered than usual, and those of us with night-vision issues and aging automobiles frequently find we can’t get even to the things we would like to be seeing. So there is more need than ever for second-hand information we can count on, including summaries of the lectures we couldn’t attend.

But no one is paying for that type of information, so the few stories that appear in print sources are focused on the primary interests of a particular readership. This is as it should be in a world in which art shows are many and pages of print are few, but audiences also are many. The problem is that none of them want to contribute to providing a source of comprehensive coverage, since the few efforts in that direction in the distant past have been financial failures.

So in lieu of having enough reviewing, we now find ourselves dependent on the good will of bloggers who spend their own money and wear themselves and their digital cameras out in the pursuit of art reportage.

But as I’ve said before, those of us who find ourselves spending hours at our laptops just working through e-mails and doing minimal updating simply can’t remember to click through every art blog in Atlanta. And no single one of the blogs is a go-to source for everything, despite more than one effort to create a blog on which everyone would post.

The simplest solution would be a site imitating Arts and Letters Daily, on which a set of editors would produce smart capsule summaries with links to the full-length blog posts. Good old aldaily is usually colorful in its summaries without distorting the content of the articles to which the teasers link, so one could imagine something comparable, like “Nobody thinks much about Finno-Ugric art these days. Counterforces wants to put a stop to that….” Or for locally focused stories: “Joe Blow Gallery’s new space calls itself ‘aggressively stupid.’ Bare and Bitter Sleep agrees [link] while Ghostmap Microwave thinks there isn’t nearly enough aggression [link] and newcomer False Alternatives thinks it isn’t nearly stupid enough [link].”

My original idea was to keep the hypothetical resource focused on art and mostly on art in Atlanta, so as to avoid links like “so-and-so has posted pictures of peanut butter again” or “Jerry Cullum is going on again about why nobody reads the Alexandria Quartet anymore.” Bloggers ought not to feel obligated to make themselves into pundits (although punditry doesn’t seem to stop Maureen Dowd or David Brooks from writing occasionally about almost anything they please); and if nothing else, incredibly cute animal pictures break up the solemnity. Except for readers who are just trying to figure out what shows opened last weekend and what is in them.

So we still need some kind of substitute for the adequate art reviewing that Atlanta does not have. Preferably organized by someone who does not start out somewhere near Auckland before getting to the main topic. (By the way, you know what kind of society you will be dealing with when the names of its primary geographic features are the North Island and the South Island, although the bygone givers of place names are no more than distant relatives of those who promoted the dickens out of Lord of the Rings tourism a few years back.)

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