Apologies for the break in service. I'd planned to take a few days off to catch up on reading, but reading is moreish. And the art world has been more than usually frustrating recently.
I try to avoid introspective posts like this, because they're a bit self-indulgent. But my blogging is almost pure self-indulgence, so why hold back. I find blogging cathartic, a chance to express frustration - and sometimes delight. I'm inordinately flattered that others read my posts, and I've relished responses received and connections made, but I try not to think too much about who I'm writing for or how to boost pageviews. What I hope I can do is give voice to a particular species that I think is neglected: the 'serious amateur'. There are lots of us out there, and we're a diverse bunch. We can be found staring at pictures or poring over books in the library. Some of us will be growling at the barbarians rustling crisp packets and playing with their phones, but we're not all grumpy. Some of us might even take selfies.
'Serious amateur' is an ugly term, but I think you know who I mean. We're not professionals or experts, but we have more than a casual interest. We read academic books on subjects we neither teach nor formally study. We're the people who keep academic publishers afloat, and we're the tenacious museum-goers who return again and again to see the same things, the determined few who support the more arcane exhibitions that aren't about impressionism or Leonardo da Vinci.
There are plenty of people who claim to speak for the 'average' visitor or reader, and everyone wants to reach out to the 'socially excluded'. It's relatively easy to assess success in the mass market. Just look at sales and attendance levels. And at the other extreme, professionals by definition are engaged in a process of mutual assessment and validation. There are fewer independent scholars today, and professional networks are more institutionalised with special privileges like private views, opening up a bigger gap between scholars and their readers, curators and museum goers.
The people in the middle are left out. We have no direct voice and few advocates.We are the group that no one knows what to do with, taken for granted because we'll keep coming back whatever indignities the force upon us. Ironically people perceive that museums are designed solely for serious amateurs like me, and they must be dumbed down and popularised by force. In reality they're already speeding ahead of their supposed 'critics'. Wall text is often dumbed down so far as to be meaningless and museums' 'public engagement' departments find it odd that anyone would want to look art art rather than play interactive games and take selfies. Mark Greif has written a perceptive essay addressing parallel concerns in academic writing, noting how academics today struggle as public intellectuals not because they are obscure, but because when they're addressing a wider audience they feel the need to dumb it down too much. It's a brilliant essay that addresses many points that concern me too; do read it.
I hope my modest little blog is a window on the world of one of 'us'. I don't claim to speak for all, but I suspect some of my gripes and frustrations are common to many who don't have professional privileges but want a deeper engagement than is often on offer. My views are likely more trenchant, my expression more forthright and my outlook more grumpy than others'. But in this, my modest little blog, let me give voice to a little squeak of protest from one of the maligned middling minds.
Ideas have been backing up and I have some rants to get off my chest, so I should be able to resume more frequent service. It was good to take a break and indulge in some more sustained thinking, which I hope will be fodder for future posts.