Best on board (be that canvas or masonite)?

Posted by barbara on July 3, 2011


Sunset cliffs, Blackheath, Blue Mountains, News South Wales

Most schoolchildren of the British Empire were force fed novels featuring Victorian era heroes and heroines who rarely if ever ventured beyond their ‘county seat’. Indeed a percentage of ‘bit players’ may not have crossed the line of hills into the next catchment, let alone gone ‘up to London to visit the Queen’.

So what was the significance of this geographical isolation when it came to the collective self-esteem of the local population? It surely meant that a pecking order was established in each hamlet, village or town when it came to the most praiseworthy individuals and services on offer. Such widely acknowledged rankings presumably applied across the board. Everyone could name the local beauty or the most reputable town or village healer, midwife, preacher, jeweller, animal whisperer, hayrick builder, artist and so on.

While a village beauty might pale in comparison to a lovelier lass four and 20 miles away, for example, few of her fellow citizens would be aware of this ‘belittling’ or in a position to judge in the absence of photographs, let alone TV or the internet. Hearsay and gossip were one thing, seeing with one’s own eyes another.

Famous beauties aside, what were the implications for art? As globalisation proceeds at breakneck speed, fuelled by the World Wide Web, the question is this. Where does instantaneous access to the internet leave today’s artists and artisans? In the days when communities large or small mainly stuck to themselves, an artist of middling talent might find themselves hailed as the ‘best in the village’. The very valley they lived in was a crucible that nurtured their art and protected their skill set, however mediocre it might be on the regional or world stage.

Hasn’t globalisation changed all that? Every artist in their ‘garret’, be it a converted warehouse, old barn or a corner of a cramped bedsit, now effectively competes with world artists on a global scale. Each time they go online, not only can they see at a keystroke the acknowledged masterpieces of the world but the diverse output of a world’s worth of contemporary jobbing artists who are now their competition. An individual's creativity for better or worse can now be judged against the best in the world rather than the best in one's town, village or hamlet.

In ‘them thar days’, someone with talent, however slight, had a chance to ‘shine in their small corner’ as the age old hymn goes. These days, artists of great talent may go under the radar because so much art, a veritable tsunami, is now at our fingertips.

Surely fewer artists feel fulfilled and secure in such an overwhelming scenario. And just how hard is it to keep on striving to achieve viva la difference when visually assailed by the talented outputs of the ‘best on globe’?

What some find inspirational, prompting them to redouble their efforts to make an indelible mark, others may find intimidating—to the point where they ask themselves, why am I bothering?

Am I alone in thinking this way?



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