I’d like to share a story of an experience I had in the Minneapolis airport in 2015. In my memory, I even gave it a title: Outsourced to My Decorator. It wasn’t exactly traumatic, or all that different from the usual overheard-at-the-airport experience, but for me it was a moment of ringing cultural contrast and reverberating concern.
I was returning home from a weekend at The Walker Art Center’s SuperScript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in the Digital Age.
I’d had a fabulous, intellectually stimulating time surrounded by hella smart art writers, art thinkers, artists and cultural innovators. The audience and speakers were mostly younger than I am. They were welcoming, thoughtful, and eager to engage in new directions of culture making.
Basking in after-conference hopefulness, I found the airport gate overcrowded and far too small for a packed flight to San Francisco. I approached the last remaining open seat, which was occupied by a charging cell phone. The phone’s owner, mesmerized by his laptop, made no move to allow me to sit. He blinked and seemed to become slightly aware of his surroundings when I pointed at his phone. After I took my seat, my eavesdropping led me to discover that he was part of group of about ten people who surrounded me. All were in their twenties and appeared to work for the same tech company.
Someone said the word, “Instagram.” An African man in dashiki attire, clearly not a member of the tech group, asked, “What’s Instagram?” Hardy laughter erupted from the group. The giggling white woman across from me said loudly, ”What’s Instagram? You ask that on a flight to San Francisco?” She looked at me to encourage my joining in the hilarity. I gave her my best Scary Bitch look. I thought, “And my art crowd is supposed to be elitist snobs?”
I overheard more. “How’s your new house?” a woman asked her male colleague. “It’s fine,” he answered while keyboarding. “So you’re all moved in? Do you have furniture?” she continued. “Uh yeah,” he replied, making brief eye contact with her. “I just outsourced it to my decorator.” This guy was probably 26-years-old.
I’m in my fifties and I try very hard not to be an ageist. My artist friends in San Francisco have been complaining for the past decade about how Tech Bros are ruining the city with their insular, narcissistic, privileged acquisition and lack of historical awareness. I’d offer weak rebuttals like, “I know young people in tech and they’re nice.”
Now I’m worried too. I live in Eugene, Oregon, the city recently dubbed the “Silicon Shire.” My concern is for the making and sustaining of culture and the lack of arts education for all ages. Public school kids are not taught art in any integrative way, college students rarely take even one art history course, and few older adults come in contact with visual art beyond county fairs and the like. We fail to understand that arts education will produce not only artists and creatives, but an art audience – those discerning and receptive people who recognize art and innovation when it hits them in the face.
“Creativity requires a beholder. Even the most innovative idea won’t gain traction if no one realizes its genius,” says Eric Weiner in his new book The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places From Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley
Weiner states, “Creative genius (as opposed to raw IQ) is a social verdict, a natural outcome of where we direct our energies and our attention. We get the geniuses who we want and who we deserve. Or, as Plato said, “What is honored in a country is cultivated there.” What was honored in 18th-century Vienna? Music. So we got Mozart, Beethoven and other great composers. What do we honor today? Digital technology, and the connectivity and convenience it represents.”
Let’s talk about what we honor. I’d like to propose that the camps of art and the camps of tech join forces. Here in Eugene, we have an opportunity to do that on a manageable scale. Scale is one of the things we like best about Eugene. We could innovate a model of TechBro ArtSis osmosis. Anti-ageism required. Art is a powerful connective force; it’s cool and engaging and speaks the oldest language we all know. Art satisfies a need to find what connects us, in the ineffable cosmic flux as well as the political here and now. Dualities. Converging. Like art culture and tech culture.
Or will the entire field of art just be outsourced to decorators?