Over the past one hundred years, the Fine Arts have suffered a sudden death at the hands of Edison, Marconi, George Eastman, and Philo Farnsworth. Prior to the invention of the phonograph, cinema, radio, camera, and television, sounds and images were precious and unique. Audio and visual recording and mass distribution have wiped out the demand for art in its original form. Oil paintings are less relevant to the masses than cheap prints and digitized copies; musical instruments in the home are little more than furniture; dance and theatre are artifacts and novelties; and new music compositions are virtually irrelevant outside of film.
In the era before television, radio, and film, audiences and consumers, seeking escape, culture, and entertainment, would frequently leave their homes to attend concerts, theatre, and galleries. Live music, dance, theatre, oil painting and sculpture filled their cultural needs. Oil painters, musicians, and dancers had a place in society as their products were in demand. Home entertainment consisted of musical instruments, requiring fresh published music each week. Composers of pure instrumental music were useful and valuable. In the same way that critics descend upon new films today, new compositions, new paintings, and new dance performances were devoured by the public and the media alike.
The technological bottling and mass distribution of Art has changed the landscape. No longer does a music lover need to attend a concert, or attempt to perform the piece his or herself. A simple purchase of a CD permits infinite enjoyment of a near-perfect performance. Visual art, dramas, and music in a raw, immediately consumable form can be purchased and brought home. Phonographs, tapes, records, CDs, and DVDs have alleviated the need for live performance. Along with original oil paintings, and theatre, a live performance has been reduced from a necessity to a novelty. Glenn Gould saw it coming, and helped to bring it upon us himself. The day is here.
Born in the 1920’s, Hollywood film still remains our primary source of entertainment. We are audiovisual creatures, and film satisfies most of our senses. Film is now firmly entrenched in the home, as DVD sales are at an all-time high. In 2002, consumers spent $20.3 billion buying and renting DVDs and VHS versus $9.3 billion moviegoers spent at the theatrical box office. Entertainment does not replace art, but the relationship between the two should not be ignored. Audiences attentions are driven by trends and budgets. Should we continue to paint oil paintings when we are already entranced and appeased by countless images which move and speak? Should composers continue to labor over notes which no one may ever hear? What is the point of live ballet, modern dance, and choreography when even the most prominent dance troupes cannot break even anymore?
Are our artists tilting at windmills more than ever before? Can Art be “saved”?
I think Darwin has the answer. I think Art must adapt and change, or it will continue to die. Advances in technology must be incorporated into Art, to capture the modern senses, and express the emotions of the modern spirit in a contemporary language. Training and practice of painting, dance, theatre, music performance, and composition are important stages in the process, but the next step is a full embrace of technology by the Artistic Community.
The meteor of multimedia technology has struck. Our cultural landscape is changed forever. Artists and Art must change with it, or face extinction.