The culture consumers;: A study of art and affluence in America Mass Market Paperback – 1973
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Back in 1965, Alvin Toffler, best know for "Future Shock," wrote a book called "The Culture Consumers: Art and Affluence in America," which noted that the booming American economy was capable of satisfying most consumers' needs and had produced what he called the Comfort Class. People across the country were turning to visual arts and performance arts, as producers, consumers and sponsors. He noted that colleges and universities across the country were both bringing in top performers and putting on some of the world's most challenging plays and musical productions with student groups, sometimes including highly respected professionals from outside the area as part of the production.
Unlike some critics of American culture, or its reputed lack of culture, Toffler traveled the country, visited university campuses, talked to professional and amateur performers and to impresarios competing with local university booking offices for both talent and audiences.
He also looked at what psychologists have to say about art, its role through the ages (lightly touched upon, but a useful reminder that art has only rarely been the sole province of the professional.) In other words, his reporting isn't politically correct, New York City parochial or infused with psych babble. This is quality journalism at its best -- inquisitive, imaginative in its effort and fact-based in its delivery.
"Art, not merely because it sometimes transmits the value of a past age, but because it has been a part of human society since the beginning, is an anodyne for rootlessness."
And on the drive for experience in a consumer society: "A population that seeks new stimuli is bound to discover and respond to cultural products...these cravings...have been detonated by the income-leisure-education boom of the fifties." Combined with the American drive for self-improvement, something which David Brooks has written about in the New York Times, it has led to a spectacular growth in culture consumption. It's just that Toffler caught it several decades ago.
Through his travels and conversations, he also noted the passing of local cultural institutions from tired old guards in communities across the country who wanted to restrict culture to self-defined elites to younger people who wanted to reach a wider audience and a broader range of performances and art, in part because they had taken some art courses during their university education, something which was relatively rare in the previous generations.
Culture and business also grew closer as companies supported the arts and understood that many employees were attracted to a community with culture. Or perhaps it was the reverse -- they would not move to a place like Cincinnati just to work with P&G and live in a corporate ghetto. "...it is not coincidence that some companies in Cincinnati, for example, have sent descriptions of the city's cultural resources to workers they hope to recruit."
One result of this was a growth of arts councils across the country to coordinate efforts and support growth in the arts, often through raising funds for centers that could house both performing and visual artists and grow audiences.
The councils, communities and universities provided enough opportunities that many artists could support themselves by touring or working in schools and community centers as visiting artists.
Toffler also examined the economics of art and its costs -- which climb with expansion, because arts cannot be mass produced -- they do not enjoy increasing efficiency as they expand, what he calls the Law of the Inefficiency of Art.
In addition, he brought factual reporting to the long-running debate over government support of the arts, an issue which he says is often lost in myth. Toffler noted the "obvious fact" that any government "may aid the arts more by preserving peace, by ensuring economic prosperity, political freedom and general welfare than through any specific program engineered for the purpose." And he also noted that critics who condemned the US for insufficient support of the arts ignored the fact that federal tax breaks are worth more than eight times the amount distributed by the Arts Council of Great Britain at the time. Besides that, he wrote, raising money from communities increases awareness and involves more people in the life of local cultural institutions. Governments could expand support by increasing deductibility of contributions or making tax credits available to donors.
Art is not just for the elites, he contended, years ago., He made his point well with lots of reporting, plenty of facts.