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Art in the Age of Gingrich: Doing the Hokey-Pokey

by Jeff Gates

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In pre-industrial societies, artists were integral to their communities. And art was not just something that sold in a gallery or something that looked good over the sofa. Under capitalism, art became a commodity and its value shifted from one determined by the history of the community to one determined by the marketplace. Artists lost their central importance as spiritual and social guides. Sandra Braman, in her article "From Virtue to Vertu to Virtual: Art in the Information Economy," states "our sense of the artist as outsider is historically and geographically specific, limited at most to few hundred years and those cultures influenced by Western Europe at the height of modernity."

As Doonesbury suggests, we are entering a new age of information. Here, the future isn't plastics as Dustin Hoffman's character was told in The Graduate, but knowledge. In this period, objects will have less value than what we know. Who has the information and how one gets it will be as important to success as the right job is today. Knowledge already is power. As a teacher, I've seen my role change in the last 20 years from someone who teachers "how to" to someone who teaches "where to" find resources. If the commodity of the 21st century is information, artists can position themselves now to be full partners in the exchange of goods and services and in determining cultural policy.

text Separating the market from the "products" we produce and being the source of a wide range of content and viewpoints places us right back where we started: at the intrinsic center of society rather than its "shady" exterior. And we don't have to give up our ability to question and devise new forms in the process! Rather than being killed for bearing the messages of culture, we can be paid (and maybe even respected) for it!

But ll not happen by chance. It is something we must first recognize and then lay the groundwork for. Policy is already being developed to deal with this new information age. If we are not part of the process, we might easily remain "have nots," easily preyed upon and just as easily taking on the roles of victims. If the electorate still holds the power then we need to devise strategies for seeking them out and showing them our value. Politicians desirous of keeping their jobs will listen. If the voters say artists are important, policy will change. The right has done a good b of claiming our national symbols for their own and it is time we reclaim them or, at least, enlarge their meaning. If we do not investigate the potential for being information-givers and if we refuse to invest in sources of information, will lose a critical opportunity to be heard and to influence. And, should we remain on the fringes, we risk merely being the makers of good quality sofa art.

You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out. You put your right foot in and you shake it all about...

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© 1995 Jeff Gates. No reproduction in whole or in part may be used without prior consent of the author.

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