Can Contemporary Art Become Too Popular?
Contemporary art, believe it or not, is hot. When comedian Stephen Colbert “begs” British graffiti artist Banksy not to make the walls of his studio’s building the next target in his Better Out Than In series (aka, “Banksy Takes Manhattan”) and instantly send property values skyrocketing, you know that contemporary art’s hit the mainstream. But is this popularity a good thing? In a preview of the London Frieze Art Fair, The Financial Times’ Peter Aspden weighs the pluses and minuses of contemporary art’s current status. Admittedly, the popularity of and financial investment in contemporary art beats the alternative, but, as Aspden points out, “it’s hard to deny that in its quest for instant accessibility, contemporary art has lost something of the sense of purpose that it enjoyed when it was genuinely pushing at the boundaries of moral and social consensus.” Aspen believes that the public more willingly swallows contemporary art because “it is so easily consumed and digested.” Should the contemporary art world be choking on its own success? Can contemporary art become too popular?
Aspden focuses mainly on the London art scene, but the phenomenon he recognizes goes global. Banksy’s traversing the Atlantic to stage the month-long Better Out Than In series speaks more about his desire to conquer new worlds and rake in more cash than any kind of cultural outreach. Works such as This Is My New York Accent ... Normally I Write Like This (shown above) raise an amused chuckle, perhaps, but fail to start any kind of cultural stir, as underground art forms such as graffiti once claimed to do. The piece itself jokes at what’s lost in translation when someone steps outside their customary cultural circle, but what’s really lost in translation might be the enlivening edginess of art that Aspden alludes to. Banksy even set up a web site for fans to visit to find his latest works—a stroke of shameless self-marketing that some might argue continues the long tradition of artists such as Gustave Courbet. But where Courbet could proclaim himself “the most arrogant man in France,” Banksy’s online proclamations contain less of the arrogance of cutting-edge art and more of the old school commercialism art once condemned.
Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst—the twin towers of commercialized contemporary art—make their requisite appearances in Aspden’s piece, of course. Aspden marvelously details all the lowlights of the past few decades of contemporary art and points fingers at the Tate museums and Guggenheims for their complicity in the simultaneous popularizing and dumbing down of contemporary art. Like so many art forms that challenge the status quo, contemporary art shifted from contempt to collaboration to complacency—an evolution accelerated by financial reward—and thus became part of the very status quo they once resisted. Aspden draws an interesting connection between contemporary popular music and contemporary art. “The ruinous decline of pop music over the past couple of decades is one of the reasons for the rising interest in visual art,” Aspden argues. “Art stars became the new rock stars.” But a renaissance in popular music paralleling contemporary art’s decline in edginess might “mark the beginning of a redressing of the balance.” The rise of the Beliebers may have created a generation of new believers in visual and performance art, but contemporary art’s betrayal of that belief by selling out may be tipping the scales back towards music.
Aspden sees some hope for contemporary art in his humorous “survival guide” for those braving the London Frieze Art Fair. Go forth, he advocates, and look at the work done by young artists who inhabit the world beyond the fairs and festivals. Go forth and look at the work of artists from the Middle East and China, where the status quo of oppression still compels artists to challenge rather than assimilate. Go forth and look at the work of the Old Masters, the contemporary art of the past, and revisit what art challenging us to be better and bolder looks like. Avoid, according to Aspden, today’s ubiquitous “Pop-ups–restaurants, shops, galleries,” which he calls “the most potent symbol of the Attention Deficit Disorder age.” It’s a great thing that people are paying attention to a contemporary art world where new Banksys can pop up overnight, but we must guard against that attention leading to a deficiency of the mind and the soul.
[Image: Banksy. This Is My New York Accent ... Normally I Write Like This, 2013. Part of the Better Out Than In series. Located at 508 West 25th Street, Westside, New York City, NY.]
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."
- The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
- Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
- However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.
- Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
- The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
- Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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