Let’s try to leave the sources to the side for a bit, outline some questions, see if we can open up something new. One question/problem that comes up when thinking about and working with the “democratic” multiple is the idea, accepted as common truth, that the “general public” is not interested in, or not capable of understanding, art that is “intelligent” or “sophisticated.” I really struggle with that idea, and I’m not sure it should be accepted as always 100% true—large generalizations about large groups of people often aren’t. Reality will always be more complicated than our methods of understanding it.
And that idea, that art for the public can’t be smart, is implicit in the discussions of the artists’ book as democratic multiple outlined earlier—the artists’ book fails as a democratic form not because of its affordability, but because the content is not geared towards a general audience.
[This is a difficult problem, one that runs through and influences our culture everyday. There is probably no solution, and I have no idea if we’ll even be able to get close to one in these posts. But maybe we can open some windows.]
In the last post we looked at the idea of “the failure” of the artists’ book as a democratic multiple. The question of failure remains an important one: what defines the “failure?” Are we equating the success of an art form with its success in the marketplace? Are there other ways to measure success? Who or what set the deadline that this “failure” is judged against? Can there ever be a complete “failure” in the world of discourse?
Does it make sense to separate artists’ books out from longer histories of independent publishing? From art and literature in general?
What demographics make up this “general audience?” How do we define this audience? People who are not book artists? People who are not artists? People who ordinarily aren’t a part of the art world at all? [What makes one part of the art world? How does one get in?] Is this general audience diverse, or are they implicitly homogenous, defined in terms of the dominant class/race?
What kinds of content are normally considered “appropriate” for a general audience? What kinds of formal structure are normally considered “appropriate” for a general audience? [What’s with the word “appropriate” here? It makes it sound like the general audience needs to be treated like a child.]
Who is responsible for the quality of cultural production—the culture industry or the culture market?
One thing we can agree on: the amount of people buying experimental literature/artists’ books is small, when compared to the amount of people buying movie tickets, watching certain television shows, or buying and reading copies of genre fiction. The actual audience is actually small. Is that bad? How big is the potential audience, and does that matter?