Being there without being there: The arts in the age of YouTube
Article originally published in Online Currents August 2012 and reprinted with kind permission
|Image: Troglodyte watching
television. Paul Bentley
I have become a troglodyte
in a wired up cave. Once upon a time I used to go to concerts and the
theatre, but I seem to be satisfied now by parcels of pleasure on YouTube. I
still go to galleries, but instead of applying paint to canvas, as I used to
do, I now doodle on an iPad. What are the other troglodytes doing? How are
arts organisations responding to people like me? And what are some of the
implications for the arts in a networked world?
Hasan Bakhshi, Director of
Creative Industries at the UK National Endowment for Science, Technology and
the Arts (NESTA) and David Throsby, Professor of Economics at Macquarie
University, have explored trends by examining innovation. Although funders
beseech arts and cultural organisations to be innovative, Bakhshi and
Throsby wrote in their recent report, there is little clarity about what
innovation means. After looking at the work of the National Theatre and the
Tate in London, they proposed a framework for innovation based on four
necessities – extending audience reach, developing art forms, creating extra
value and exploring new business models .
To reach audiences beyond
the confines of its theatres, the National Theatre has been presenting
digitised versions of its plays in cinemas around the world through its NT
Live initiative (https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/ntlive).
When it screened a production of Phèdre in 2009, it doubled its
audience for the whole season because of a single screening. Almost half of
the cinema goers had not seen Phèdre at the theatre because they
lived too far away. In the eyes of the public, NT Live complemented rather
than replaced the experience in the theatre. Online resources at the Tate
have helped the museum to overcome the constraints of distance and time (http://www.tate.org.uk).
In search of new works, the
National Theatre is committed to supporting up-and-coming writers. NT Live
has demonstrated that cinema audiences are in general more emotionally
responsive to new playwrights than traditional theatre audiences. At the
Tate, online strategies have helped juggle the competing needs of satisfying
the demand for exhibitions of well-known works while also supporting new
Fresh thinking, Bakhshi and
Throsby wrote, is needed to measure and articulate the full range of
benefits that arise from the work of arts and cultural organisations. The
value of live and digitised productions can be expressed not only in the
willingness of people to pay for the experience, it can be expressed by the
value placed on a group experience and by emotional responses to that
experience. There is a case for a stronger accounting of purely cultural
values as distinct from their economic contributions when assessing the
value of cultural institutions.
In exploring a new business
model for innovation, arts and cultural organisations need to find new
funding streams, both private and public, with an appetite for risk. Both
the National Theatre and the Tate have been able to spread risks by using
flexible financing structures to accommodate the different needs of
particular investors, donors and funding agencies, and by balancing popular
presentations with more risky fare.
Bakhshi and Throsby were
positive about the revenue potential from digital strategies by theatres. It
is too early to say whether live screenings are sustainable, but there has
been significant demand for other formats such as live streaming online and
DVDs. They were more cautious about the potential for increased revenue from
the online operations of art museums. They urged further research and
development, involving targeted investment on new business models and
partnerships with the research community, philanthropists and businesses.
Subsequently, NESTA, with Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities
Research Council, allocated £500,000 on experimental proposals in England.
And, in partnership with
Creative Scotland and the Arts and the Humanities Research Council, NESTA
has embarked on a similar exercise in Scotland.
see the patterns emerging on wider fronts.
THE PERFORMING ARTS
Companies are following the path of the National Theatre. The Royal Opera
House screens its
operas and ballets around the world (http://www.roh.org.uk/about/cinema).
The Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall (http://www.digitalconcerthall.com)
offers subscriptions to online concerts and other material. In Paris,
Cité de la
Musique Live (http://www.citedelamusiquelive.tv/)
provides direct online access to concerts at La Cité and the Salle Pleyel to
a worldwide audience. Partnerships have been formed with European
broadcasters. Medici TV (http://www.medici.tv),
launched in 2008, has a modest annual
subscription to online broadcasts of about 100 concerts, operas and ballets
a year, and access of over 900 archived titles. The
BBC and Arts Council
England recently launched the joint venture, The Space (http://thespace.org/),
which provides a live and on-demand
digital arts service to audiences in Britain.
United States, the
Metropolitan Opera has a
Met Opera on Demand app for the
iPad, giving mobile access to more than 350 high-definition broadcasts,
telecasts from the 1970s and more than 250 radio broadcasts dating back to
Live From Lincoln Center is a television series produced by the
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and aired on public broadcasting
stations across the country (http://lc.lincolncenter.org/organizations/lincoln-center-presents-sites/live-from-lincoln-center).
Philharmonic presents live concerts from Walt Disney Concert Hall to cinemas
throughout the United States and Canada via LA Phil Live (http://www.laphil.com/laphillive/).
Other American orchestras are exploiting broadcasting, online and cinema
Individual musicians are in the online game. Anna Netrebko
Hélène Grimaud (http://www.helenegrimaud.com/)
have their own websites. You can follow James Rhodes, Yuja Wang, Daniel
Barenboim, Gustavo Dudemel, Loren Maazel and Stephen Hough on Twitter.
Son Yeol-eum has used an iPad to sight-read a digital score when she
performed Liszt’s transcription
of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony .
As an encore during a performance with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra,
pianist Lang Lang played the “Flight of the Bumblebee” at lightning speed
on the iPad instead of the Steinway grand piano. Lang Lang’s performance
of Prokofiev’s “Piano Sonata No 7” on YouTube is accompanied by the dramatic
swoop of an overhead camera to accentuate the relentless drive of the last
Recalling the primacy of
set design in the 19th century, the Metropolitan Opera’s recent hi-tech
staging of Wagner’s Ring was viewed by one critic as a visual art
experience as well as a theatrical one. The production is “an orgy of video,
carefully sequenced and impeccably presented, relayed by 10 high-definition
projectors and aided by sparing use of motion sensors and even
voice-activated imagery”. Three video image artists were used to help create
digital dimensions to the music and drama .
American producer Ken Davenport says the
fourth wall, the imaginary wall between the audience and players, will
continue to be pulled down by the experience of younger generations with
interactive entertainment. Social media is changing the way theatre shows
Karen Larson, however, reminds us
that social media as a promotional tool has its limitations: marketing and
pricing depends on the product .
A picture of efforts in
Australia emerges in a paper by the Australian Major Performing Arts Group.
Most orchestras around the country are using digital technology to varying
degrees – to build grassroots support, to generate new audiences, and to
deliver world-class educational resources. Many companies are struggling to
keep up with the leap in expertise required in the digital arena and the
increasing costs involved. Companies are exploring the best ways to digitise
collections in preparation for the National Broadband Network. AMPAG is
leading negotiations over artists’ rights with the Media Entertainment and
Arts Alliance, the industry’s union .
The Sydney Opera House has
a new digital strategy centring on the video portal, Play (http://play.sydneyoperahouse.com/).
The House now sells more tickets online than over the counter. It has formed
partnerships with the ABC, Opera Australia, CinemaLive, SONY, the arts
channel STVDIO, the NSW Department of Education and Training, and the
Wolanski Foundation to develop and deliver its digital strategies .
The Victorian Arts Centre has a Digital Technology Hub, an upgrade of the
Alfred Brash SoundHouse, to provide learning experiences to students and
Palace Cinemas, in
partnership with CinemaLive and Opus Arte, are offering overseas productions
in local cinemas (http://www.palaceoperaandballet.com.au/).
Opera Australia has screened its productions locally and, in 2012-2013, will
be screening Don Giovanni, La Traviata and Turandot in the United Kingdom
and Ireland .
The Sydney Symphony, in partnership with BigPond and ABC Classic FM,
presents webcasts of its concerts (http://bigpondmusic.com/sydneysymphony).
In April, Cold Chisel simultaneously broadcast one of its live concerts to
72 cinemas throughout Australia.
The Australian Performing
Arts Gateway AusStage is currently working on a project to amplify the value
of its AusStage database through digital visualisation techniques to improve
our understanding of historical contexts and collaborations between people.
It is also developing approaches for gathering research information from
audiences using social media and mobile devices .
Other galleries have joined
the Tate. The National Gallery in London recently screened its exhibition
Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan in cinemas around the
world. The price of a cinema ticket was much cheaper than the $400 scalpers
were reportedly pocketing in the English capital .
But Nick Miller, reviewing the cinema version Leonardo Live in
Australia, concluded that it was an experiment that may or may not fly. It
was a rare opportunity to see the assembled Leonardo works, but the digital
camera shuddered awkwardly as it scanned across the works .
You can now use your iPad
in your armchair, but without the pleasure of Rome, to marvel at the hand of
God in the Sistine Chapel (http://www.vatican.va/various/cappelle/sistina_vr/index.html/).
The Museum of Modern Art in New York has an Art Lab app to help you create
works of art while at the same time encourage you to explore the work of
artists represented in the MOMA collection .
Tasmania’s digitally-oriented Museum of Old and New Art has a new exhibition
Theatre of the
World which promises to
engage, and reject, the widely held notion that ancient and contemporary
works of art are inherently different (http://mona.net.au/what's-on/exhibitions/).
Broadcasters and online
enterprises are working with galleries. The BBC, in partnership with Public
Catalogue Foundation, has created Your Paintings, a website which aims to
show the entire UK national collection of oil paintings, the stories behind
the paintings, and where to see them for real (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/).
An even more arresting initiative is the Google Art Project (http://www.googleartproject.com/),
which is making digital images of works in galleries around the world and
the means to explore them in minute detail.
Individual artists, who rely less on teamwork than their thespian cousins,
but who are equally in need of outlets, are grappling with questions about
digitising their art and making digital art.
David Hockney is one who
has turned to the iPhone and iPad to generate new digital pictures .
Early experimentation with software apps has led to exhibitions of his iPad
art in Paris, Toronto and London and to experimental high-definition video
projections with musical backing. In a retrospective of the work of
Gerhard Richter, one
of the world’s top-selling living artists, his
final work in the exhibition
Centre Pompidou in Paris,
Strips, “explores how traditional painting can be reconciled with the
rise of digital culture”.
Australian artists are in 2012 represented in the
Electronica, an international
competition for cyberarts .
Digital painting and
drawing tools are dirt cheap compared with the price of oil paints and
canvases. When I started writing this article, I purchased a number of apps
from the iTunes store and, as a ritual to find out what the experience was
like, began creating images that I distributed via my Twitter account every
day. The practice reinforced the necessity of an old daily habit. The large
number of failures that were fed without a thought into the public domain
contrasted with the old habit of keeping sketchbook scribbles private. My
skill at using the different palettes and features of Sketchbook Pro, Adobe
Ideas, Brush, Paper and Zen Brush increased but still has some way to go.
Twitter kindly displays my latest daily doodles in an online gallery (https://twitter.com/#!/PaulGBentley/media/grid).
and commentators still grapple with the legitimacy of digital art. The
Creators Project (http://www.thecreatorsproject.com)
supports artists who use the new medium, and recently teased out views in a
series of blogs published on its website. The art market is thriving, with
works of art being sold at record prices. The first computer art exhibitions
were staged in 1965. But digital art, the bloggers say, is still not
accepted by the art establishment. No-one is going to make money selling
internet art, one wrote, because internet business models such as freemium
arrangements (an initial free teaser leading to a later payment),
micro-patronage and on-demand production are unlikely to work. Digital art,
another wrote, is less about lingering in front of a single work, it is more
about a shared experience, of being a journey to an idea.
Digital artist, Jorge
Colombo, speaking in June at the Rubin Museum in New York, added his
thoughts to the discussion. Like Hockney, he uses his iPhone and iPad to
create works. iPads have the capacity to raise the level of amateur art
practice and the level of understanding about art. As an artist, he likes
the immediacy and responsiveness of the iPad apps and the ease with which
digital art can be distributed. You have established your niche market, he
said, if you are seen by five or 50,000 online viewers: the work is
legitimate to the people who view it .
Vincent Van Gogh would have been happy to hear this comment: he only had a
follower of one, his brother. What would have happened if he had lived in
The art world is a
competitive place. Paul Isbel has underlined the reality: “we are all born
artists but only 0.2% of us in Australia continue to ply it as a trade and
only 2% of those who ply the trade actually make a decent living from their
Governments provide an
important role in fostering the arts. That role has come under fresh
scrutiny during the current global financial crisis.
In Europe there have been
dramatic cuts to government spending, especially in Britain, Italy, the
Netherlands and Hungary. The parlous state of the economies of Greece,
Portugal, Spain and Ireland clouds future cultural endeavours in those
countries. The impact is being felt in the United States. As European
cultural institutions scramble to stay afloat, they have begun to compete
with American institutions in cultivating sources of private funding in the
United States .
arts are experiencing contradictory trends in the United States. According
to the Americans for the Arts annual indexes, the sector continues to follow
the nation’s business cycle. Attendances have begun to rebound. There is a
significant growth in the number of non-profit arts organisations, although
they continue to be challenged financially. Consumer spending on the arts
remains steady at $150 billion. The movie industry, which typically does
well during recessions, had one of its best years in
2009, although motion picture attendance
dropped off in 2010.
Arts employment is
strong. The self-employed
“artist-entrepreneur” sector continues to grow.
More college arts
degrees are conferred annually. Personal
arts creation and arts volunteerism remain strong. But philanthropic
support for the arts, one of the hallmarks of the American arts scene, has
Randy Cohen has put the
case for government and corporate support of the arts using statistics from
the Americans for the Arts’ latest Arts & Economic Prosperity IV Study: they
are fundamental to humanity, they improve student performance, they have
strong economic credentials in terms of employment, tourism and exports,
they are linked to better health and they underpin strong communities .
The National Governor’s
Association Centre for Best Practices in the United States advocates the
role of the arts in assisting economic growth at State level .
Saving economies locally has led to discussions about the role of cities. In
America’s laboured economy, cities of the so-called Rust Belt, Cleveland,
Pittsburgh and Detroit, instead of paying their way out of the gloom by
building an expensive sports stadium, a performing arts complex or a
shopping mall, are creating niche art environments based on the intrinsic
character of the town to lift community spirits and boost local tourism .
It is an idea promoted
locally by Marcus Westbury, founder of Renew
Westbury has transformed the idea into Renew Australia as
a new “national social enterprise
designed to catalyse community renewal, economic development, the arts and
creative industries across Australia” .
He is also organising the 2013 International Symposium of Electronic Art in
is a business
initiative supported by the New South Wales government (http://www.digitalsydney.com/)
that aims to promote
investment into Sydney by branding the State capital as “an Asia Pacific
centre of excellence for digital talent and work”.
characteristics of the new economies are trotted out in conference keynote
speeches and by commentators.
We are in a social revolution that is moving along a
number of trajectories. Marketing is dead. Audiences have become
communities. The consumer has become co-creator.
moved from being hierarchies to becoming networks.
Market success comes from focusing on platforms rather than
products. Leadership has become a question of empowering rather than
controlling. The revolution may take some time to unfold .
Government cuts in some quarters have stimulated fresh discussions on why
the taxpayer should fund the arts and on measuring the value of this
investment. Moving beyond
the rhetoric, demonstrating quantifiable value and preserving social values
is a difficult exercise .
To add to the body of literature that has already been accumulated, NESTA’s
Hasan Bakhshi has written a paper with Alan Freeman and Graham Hitchen on
how to use economics to measure value, to “transcend entrenched
misunderstandings between economists and arts policymakers, leaders and
funders”. Frustrated arts defenders, they say, will make more headway with
clear arguments for better economics than with muddy arguments for immunity
from it .
Some argue that government
money is not the best way to fund the arts. Ian Moss, for example, a
supporter of government funding, points out that federal government
expenditure is only a drop in the ocean of American expenditure on the arts.
The vast majority of funds in the United States is derived from the private
sector in the form of earned revenue from ticket sales or other services, or
donations from foundations, corporations and individuals. Support for the
arts by European governments is greater, but European governments are now
looking more closely at the American model of private support .
Australian government attention to the arts and digital technology started
in earnest when Creative Nation was published by the Keating
government in 1994. The government subsequently provided funds for Australia
on CD projects aimed at forging sustainable partnerships between cultural
institutions, academia and multimedia businesses, Ozeculture conferences to
stimulate invention, and other government-funded initiatives. One of the
Australia on CD projects won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts
award in 1999 and all of them found their way to the shelves of school
libraries. The Performing Arts Multimedia Library project,
jointly funded by the federal and
Victorian governments, anticipated in 1999 the objectives of the
NESTA report in 2010 .
The Australian government’s
principal arts agency, the Australia Council explored the question of the
arts and technology in a discussion paper published in 2008. More
wide-ranging than the NESTA report, it covered areas such as experiencing
live performance digitally, augmenting live performance to enable audience
interaction, marketing strategies, customer relationships, recordings,
exports, educational products, archives, digital and internet television,
and managing information technologies within
Its strategy paper,
published the following year, proposed paths for policy-makers in reaching
new audiences, raising the profile of emerging art forms, building the
capacity of the sector to adopt appropriate business models for the digital
era, offering support for a new cross-platform arts landscape and
encouraging the creation of and access to arts content through digital
Labor government promised
a Keatingesque re-assessment of government arts when it organised the 2020
summit following its election in 2007. Work on a national cultural policy
has since passed through the hands of two ministers, culminating in a recent
round of submissions under Simon Crean. Hundreds of submissions
on the Office of the Arts website (http://culture.arts.gov.au/submissions).
Federal government budgetary pressures have delayed completion of a report
to make sense of the ideas in the submission.
Issues on the table are
likely to be issues that have been raised in a plethora of government
reports reviewed in the past by Online Currents .[These include dysfunctional coordination of government policy across the
three tiers of government, removing barriers, redefining concepts,
encouraging experimentation, providing channels for commercialisation, more
transparency, better business cases, creating incentives,
whole-of-government thinking, measuring the impact of cultural decisions,
cutting red tape, dealing with the divide between
high art and
popular culture, taking care of the arts in the regions, copyright reform,
encouraging private sector support, digitisation
of collections and developing educational resources.
of its deliberations about cultural policy, the Australian government is
also reviewing the role of the Australia Council. A
Angus James and
Gabrielle Trainor in May 2012 recommended the need to
focus on excellence,
give priority to research and advocacy programs, merge the Australian
Business Arts Foundation
and the Artsupport programs within
the Australia Council, allocate additional funding of $21.25 million per
annum to the Council, build professional capacity, further consultations
with the States and Territories, and fresh approaches for assessing funding
applications. The report also recommended a shake-up of the governance and
Sydney Morning Herald
columnist Elizabeth Farrelly greeted the release of the report with a
sprinkling of salt and questioned whether it would make any difference.
“Everywhere you look, the great institutions of the collective mind are
bending over backwards to restrict their message to what people already
know, think and like.” Elitists are punished. “The review attempts to deal
with this dilemma, but an overwhelmingly bureaucratic worldview, in which
important questions are about committee arrangements, does not bode well”.
Expectations about the
national cultural policy have been teased out as adroitly as Salome, when
she removed her seven veils. The speed of the National
Broadband Network (NBN) is presented as the next silver bullet.
Artists and small-to-medium-sized arts businesses will find it easier to
connect and collaborate with each other and to the rest of the world. The
tyranny of distance will disappear. Cultural institutions will be able to
deliver high-resolution content and services to all Australians,
particularly to schools.
The federal government
says the NBN will be a game-changer for the arts and cultural sector
as it draws attention to related initiatives to prepare for the
transformation to come. In late 2011, it announced a $19.94 million NBN-enabled
ABC-ESA (Education Services Australia) education portal to be launched the
second half of 2012. In December 2011, the Australia Council invited
submissions for innovative pioneering art projects for a pilot Broadband
Arts Initiative to the value of $300,000. In mid-April 2012, the federal and
Northern Territory governments announced a $800,000 joint initiative to
place artists and theatre specialists in remote schools around the Northern
see there are consistent patterns in the way governments support the arts
and their use of technology. The buzz words change to fit the times. We now
talk about innovation
in a world already created by the innovators. Innovation falters when it is
episodic, poorly funded and built on old assumptions .
New things can happen by simply working out how better to serve the
customers. Calls for extra government funds and government structures,
paradoxically, are made at a time when the networked world is a
loosely-connected ecology, without structure. But, in the words of a recent
Sydney Morning Herald editorial:
"As the economy negotiates
the stresses of a fundamental adjustment, this should be a time of cultural
engagement and exploration. That cannot be achieved by government fiat or
patronage alone, but the exploration of who we are as a society and where we
are going will not happen without it either." 
need to digitise archives in
museums, galleries, orchestras, opera companies and
theatres has been consistently
despatches. To some extent it has involved throwing money around in the hope
that things will happen. Major cultural centres, sometimes afflicted by the
ready answers of new brooms and political masters, have made clumsy
simplistic decisions about the use of technology. There has been a tendency
to treat solutions as marketing exercises at the expense of
questions. Archives in cultural centres, orchestras and theatres
worldwide are coming out of the closet. The New York Philharmonic, for
example, began digitising its archives after it received a $2.4 million
grant from the Leon Levy Foundation. Digital art poses new challenges for
curators to manage and display it. Online Currents will report on
recent developments in a future issue.
In the film Being There,
a simple-minded gardener, Chauncey Gardiner, played by Peter Sellers,
becomes an American presidential prospect because he expresses a world view
shaped by his knowledge of gardening and watching television. “Is there a TV
upstairs? I like to watch.” At the end of the film he walks off across the
surface of a lake. He pauses, and to show the audience he is actually
walking on water, dips his umbrella to test its depth, then continues to
walk towards the horizon. "Life is a state of mind."
Gould stopped giving live concerts at the age of 31 because he hated playing
in front of a real audience. Arthur Rubenstein continued to give concerts
until he was 89 because it was an important social experience.
on YouTube is enriched by memories of actually being there. I have felt the
climax of a Mahler symphony through the floorboards of a concert hall. I
have marvelled at an emotionally-charged silence between a pair of live
actors more palpable than anything you would feel in a cinema. I fell in
love with the works of Cy Twombly only after seeing them big in his
retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. When I experience Grigory Sokolov
play Le Tic Toc Choc at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on YouTube ,
it brings back the memory of Paul Badura-Skoda playing Schubert one Sunday
morning in the same theatre.
Being there without having
been there is only half the experience.
Miller N, “Strokes of Genius Captured in all their Glory”, The
Sydney Morning Herald (17 February 2012).
Bentley P, “The Digital Economy Dance: Getting into Step with
Government Policy” (2009) 23 OLC 13.
Farrelly E, “The PC Crowd That’s Keeping the World of Art Mediocre”,
The Sydney Morning Herald (17 May 2012).
 Grigory Sokolov Playing the Le Tic Toc Choc ou les Maillotins,
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