Last night there was a broadcast of a talk by Wendell Berry, the author of The Unsettling of America. The talk (actually a “conversation” with Michael Pollan) was mostly about farming and food, but it was also about labor and community, and the economy of interactions between all of these.
Berry talked a lot about the idea of the local—particularly of “local adaptability” and of small, local economies rooted in the particular strengths and abilities of the land. These small economies would be adaptable to the needs of the land and of the community, as opposed to giant, “universal” modes of production and distribution that impress upon the land & community a destructive sameness to all other lands and communities. Same in the sense of “one size fits all,” destructive in the sense of a gradual annihilation of the resources available there, leaving wasted and empty spaces.
What are the relations between labor, community, and economy, in the arts and particularly in the book(ish) arts? How do the modes of production and reception of books differ from the modes of production and reception of more conventional or dominant forms of art? How do those modes offer alternatives to established channels of distribution? How have those alternatives changed in the last 40 years? (I’m thinking in the context of the “democratic multiple” debate in artists’ books, and the subsequent rise of the Internet, print-on-demand, and the art fair.) Is economic sustainability an issue in the arts? How can a young artist bring their practice, their finances, and their overall happiness into alignment? Is it always about money? (Those last two are pressing, personal questions for me, but I think that they are also pressing, personal questions for many people.)
And with this post and these questions begins another line of inquiry, a new series, RECEPTION IS PRODUCTION, where we will try to expand upon these notions of reception (what path does the artwork take in the world?) community (in what part of the world are those paths traced?) and economy (what forces determine these paths?). And ultimately, can those paths begin to constitute a world?