Those of us who, in our kinder moments, find British contemporary artist Tracey Emin to be little more than an untalented fishwife in need of a good scrub with soap and water, can often feel a sense of isolation. If we are fortunate enough to live in a larger town or city with an arts community, we may have the opportunity to meet others who share our views, of course, but there is no guarantee that merely by attending exhibitions and art fairs sponsored by institutions and governments headed by Baby Boomers – who as a generation have proven to espouse exceptionally bad taste – that we will discover truly gifted contemporary artists. It is for this reason that the internet has proven to be such a useful place for connecting those of us viewed with suspicion and derision by the contemporary art establishment, and who return the compliment. It is also why those of my readers who are interested in art and architecture have a tremendous opportunity to connect with their peers who care about such things, in ways that used to only be possible down at the local watering hole.
Yesterday for example, I had the very great pleasure of spending time with British artist Rupert Alexander and his new bride, who are on their honeymoon in America. Regular readers know that a little over a year ago, I wrote a favorable piece on Mr. Alexander’s portrait of The Queen, after it had been covered in all of the major British news outlets. This led to my striking up a correspondence with the artist, later being asked to write an essay about his work for his website, and now having the chance to meet in person here in D.C. It is a fact that none of this would have happened without the internet, since if we have been sitting in a real pub in the West End somewhere, it is very unlikely that I would have known who he was, or come over to start chatting with him.
As you know if you have been to the British Isles, the public houses or “pubs” are open to everyone, though certain groups tend to congregate at specific pubs. In London for example, the “Coach & Horses” in Soho is associated with journalists, or the “Red Lion” in St. James’ with that palace’s guards. It allows like-minded members of a group to meet in a public place and interact with others, but still remain in conversation amongst themselves. They can decide how much they want to reach out to those in the same pub who are not members of their group, and if the right people mix together, new friendships can form.
The internet provides us with many of the same opportunities as the local pub through activities such as blogging and social media. True, most internet users are off in a corner drinking by themselves, and some, such as the redoubtable Kevin Eder or @keder of Twitter infamy, are standing on top of the tables leading all of the patrons in a lusty chorus of “I Did It My Way”. Others, such as myself, are neither center stage nor wallflower, but occupy a comfortable position where we can be part of the larger group when we wish, or withdraw from it into smaller groups or one-on-one conversation when the mood strikes.
It is my belief that through this kind of engagement, we are being given the chance to form relationships which are not only personally enjoyable, but can lead to a renewal of culture in ways that were not previously possible. There is a kind of casual, relaxed point of access through sites like Twitter, Facebook or WordPress which, like in the comfortable local pub, welcomes all to come in and relax together, and enjoy both a shared experience with a larger group and a more intimate conversation with a smaller one. This mixture of both informality and clubbiness is something to take advantage of.
If you are a young professional in your 20’s and 30’s, you are probably not yet in a position where you personally commission great works of art or beautiful buildings. You are surrounded by hideous art and by poorly-built structures collected or commissioned by people now in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. And these patrons are assuming that when the time comes, when you are their age and they are long gone to Boca, they will have done such a good job indoctrinating you with their tastes and morality – or lack thereof – you will follow and continue their example. What the internet does for us younger patrons-to-be is to take the older generations’ elements of pompous relativistic nihilism and turn it on its head.
In using the immediacy and the more pubby feel of the internet to find young artists and architects who respect and draw upon the legacy of Western culture, you can ignore irrelevant things like the Turner or Pritzker Prize to make up your own mind as to whether a work of art or a building is good or not. A virtual pub is not only a source of education for you as patron, but allows you to develop personal relationships with artists and architects from your own generation who hold to many of the same aesthetic ideals that you do. This not only encourages these creative individuals to keep up with their work, it encourages you to be more successful or better-connected personally, so that more beautiful contributions these talented people want to make to our culture can be fulfilled, thereby counteracting the ugliness which marks much of that culture at present.
True, no Twitter or RSS feed is ever going to be as satisfying as joining friends old or new to settle back in a real chair with a stiff drink. However, in looking around at your peers who are gifted young architects, painters, draftsmen, sculptors, and so on, and developing friendships with them through blogging and social media, you can influence the future. Using the internet as a place to virtually gather can create relationships today, through the various resources available to you, which in the fullness of time may allow you or an institution with which you are associated to commission a building or a work of art.
While it is not nor should it be a full substitute for the pleasures of a good knees-up in mixed company, the internet as pub watering hole can prove be a significant venue for creative people and their future patrons to meet and work together, if we only but recognize it.