“Listening is a positive act: you have to put yourself out to do it.” David Hockney (from Brainyquote)
Why does anyone have a “summit” on a topic? Usually it is because they have discovered they are clueless and hoping a summit will give them a clue. It happens in all fields. When something has gone stagnant or worse, the powers that be convene a summit. For the summit, they invite all the players who contributed to the current state of stagnation and ask them to come up with:
- Why they are stagnant?
- Who has not gone stagnant and why?
- What ideas do they have to stop or reverse the stagnation?
What is the innate problem with a summit of this type? Namely, it is basically asking the clueless why they don’t have a clue and how can they get one. They brainstorm together over all the different ways they are currently stagnant. They talk about who isn’t stagnant. Then they discuss ways to become even more stagnant. The clueless never think to go to those who are not clueless and ask them how to get a clue. The reason is that the clueless:
- Don’t realize they are clueless
- Can’t imagine themselves to be clueless
- Think it is everybody else who is clueless.
However clueless a summit might be, it is good first step to understanding there is a problem. Such is the case for last fall’s A National Summit on Arts Journalism. In the brainstorming sessions the following points were put forth:
- “We’re here to imagine a new arts press”
- “We’ve lost the vocabulary with which to talk about it”
- “We no longer have a community of practice that can incubate and power innovation”
(In other words, we no longer control what is or isn’t art. We don’t know what to say anymore. How can we get our power and control back?)
Probably the most important point discussed in this “summit” was that there are now roughly 300,000 or more art blogs. The response from the summit attendees was, “Thoughtful and deeply-informed critical voices have a tough time getting support for their work.” And therein lies the crux of the problem. Perhaps their voices are not being heard because they are not saying anything anyone wants to hear. A truly “thoughtful and deeply-informed” voice might turn to a few of those 300,000 art blogs and try listening to someone else’s voice for a change. Somewhere within those 300,000 art blogs may be the seeds to provide a clue for the clueless. But first they will have to get their heads out of the water, stop spinning around, face forward, and listen for the clues.