T Sale's Blog

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Everybody's Patron

The other day Lary K and I were talking about James Joyce (who we’re currently studying in AP Lit) and we agreed that much of his later writing was so weird that he probably never would have gotten published if he hadn’t had some influential patrons interested in his work. Even though many people looked askance at Ulysses and Finnegans Wake when they appeared (even some of Joyce’s friends told him he had gone too far with Finnegans Wake), those novels are today regarded as groundbreaking, profound works of fiction. (Not universally, of course; many still think Joyce was nuts).

Our conversation made me wonder how many innovative, brilliant artists of the past never had their work acknowledged because they didn’t find the right patron, or didn’t luck upon the right slush-pile reader. Do the Mozarts, Picassos, and Joyces always rise to prominence because their talent can’t be ignored, or have we missed some?

And of course, the next question, in a 21st century context, is can the Internet be everybody’s patron? We have had some blog conversations in the past about whether or not the next Shakespeare will arise from cyberspace, and we have been suggesting in our 21C meetings that we should provide our students the opportunity to participate in “global” learning opportunities. Novice writers can post a poem or story on line. Aspiring filmmakers have access to YouTube. Fledgling bands make their songs available on MySpace. The Internet makes it possible for anyone with a creative urge to go public without having to pass the traditional gatekeepers. On the surface that seems like a good thing; the multiplicity of artistic endeavors coupled with unfettered access will guide the “invisible hand” of public opinion to celebrate all the greatest creative works humans have to offer.

But I wonder…

Will we encounter the opposite of stringent gatekeeping? Will the sheer volume of creative expression overwhelm us? Will we miss someone brilliant because we just couldn’t scroll any further that day, or because we didn’t click to follow that one extra link? Will “getting read” depend on how well you position yourself in the search engine maze? (Will Google be the ultimate arbiter of taste?) Will everybody be a star in the brilliant pixel parade?

As usual, more questions than answers.