Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What is Boring Art?

Chad Orzel has opened up a can o' worms in looking at the latest NEA study bemoaning the deterioration of arts attendance. I'm not happy about the "boring" in the title, but I do agree that studies like these create artificial boundaries, especially in regards to music. The study only looked at classical, jazz, and opera music performances for music, and also did not consider any performances by elementary or high school ensembles. Chad's college students still count. There are questions later about school performances, as well as religious music.The results are based upon surveying people, and leaves definitions up to them, with little guidance. So the question on classical music reads: "[With the exception of elementary or high school performances] Did you go to a live classical music performance such as symphony, chamber, or choral music [during the last 12 months?]" What about the Bang on a Can marathon? Some attendees there would call it indy music, others would call the same performance chamber music. There is a later question that captures any sort of music festival: "Did you visit an outdoor festival that featured performing artists?" Today I was listening to Fresh Air, and Terry Gross was interviewing Janelle Monae. She is labeled as a hiphop artist, but the music I heard was jazzy musical theater. And what about musical theater, which is also surveyed as "live musical stage play"? Rent is musical theater and hard rock. Same with Hair and Tommy. My guess, based on the wording of the question, is that people would call those three shows live musical stage plays, but those same people would not count a performance of Tommy by the Who back in the 70's. Nowadays the borders between genres is blurry at best, as mentioned by Mark Swed in a review of the recent Ojai Music Festival. So Chad is correct that attendance at any sort of live music performance should be counted, as should attendance at performance art happenings that aren't part of outdoor festivals.

However, looking deeper in the survey, almost all the criticisms made by Chad or his commenters are covered in the actual study, just not in the brochure or the media coverage. There are questions about musical preference that include other genres. The survey includes "Classical or Chamber, Opera, Broadway/Show Tunes, Jazz, Classic Rock/Oldies, Contemporary Rock, Rap/Hip-hop, Blues/Rhythm and Blues, Latin/Spanish/Salsa, Country, Bluegrass, Folk Music, Hymns/Gospel, Other." And the survey includes downloading or streaming performances of "music, theater or dance" and images of "paintings, sculpture or photography" from the Internet. There is personal creativity: "Did you use the Internet to create or post your own art online including design, music, photography, films, video, or creative writing?" And consuming art in recorded or broadcast format (though that is limited to the "high arts", no movies or TV shows). As for commenters at Chad's blog who critique the study for ignoring literature, it doesn't. TThe survey includes reading books that aren't required for work or school and tallied whether they were Novels/Short Stories, Poetry, or Plays, and genres (Mysteries, Thrillers, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Other Fiction, Self-Improvement, Religious texts, History/Political, Biographies, Other Non-Fiction, Other). They also include questions on reading online materials, books-on-tape, and writing your own materials. However, movies and television shows are not covered in the survey.


Peter (the other) said...


"According to Nielsen’s latest quarterly Three Screen Report, Americans averaged roughly 153 hours a month watching TV at home during Q1, nearly three more minutes than the same quarter in 2008."

It is amazing they had time to take the survey!

Scott said...

The survey does have one question on how much TV is watched, but doesn't ask what is being watched. Wow, 153 hours a month would be 5 hours a day. After 8 hours sleeping, 9 hours at work, and 2 hours eating, that leaves no time for anything else. Of course, they probably watch while eating, so they have 2 hours for playing video games.

Peter (the other) said...

I have always harbored a bit of a suspicion that Nielson's numbers may be skewed high, considering how the company makes its income. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an American Time Use Survey that still shows television watching is the single largest use of time after sleep and work. Which ever numbers you choose, it seems to me that the oft mentioned purpose of television in human life, "entertainment", is way too simple an answer. There may well be some kind of super organism instruction, or some sort of "flow" state by proxy (perhaps through firing mirror neurons) that makes watching pay off. Otherwise, if we are spending so much time just being "entertained", I might worry for our species!