This book is the result of a long-term project on which I have, on and off, been working for almost 20 years. This already led to some earlier publications. It remains an ongoing project and I also regard this book as a work in progress. The book’s last chapter is totally new and looks at the state of the arts in the twenty-first century with special attention paid to the platform economy. This was an exciting chapter to write and it would be nice to write a sequel with the help of a younger co-author.
The same as a painter is “in” his painting, I am in this book. My present self is in this book as is my past self—or rather selves. My socialisation growing up was mixed. I internalised the norms of the social group of intellectuals my parents belonged to, but also of the “simple” people on the farms where I worked beginning at the age of 12, through my teens. I loved the “inferior” art on their walls and the folk music they listened to.
I also liked the classical music in the concert halls and paintings in the museums my parents took me to. I learned to play the soprano recorder, played Telemann sonatas and for a while I played in a youth orchestra. Later on, I started reading serious books such as the novels of Dostoyevsky. And friends took me to the theatre and opera.
My socialisation was mixed and this contributed to my interest in both serious and popular art. In the stages of my life that followed, I began mixing a variety of studies: sociology, economics and the visual arts, eventually getting a degree in the latter two. At the same time, I learned to build amplifiers and served as the technician and soundman for a pop group. Eventually, I became a visual artist as well as a professor in art sociology.
The kind of socialisation I experienced growing up, characterised by a mix of cultural influences and a broad variety of interests and occupations, has both costs and benefits. As a result, I think I am good at perceiving and describing the bigger picture of the economies and the sociology of serious and popular art, and I hope this is evident in this book. But I am less good at writing in-depth articles on specific topics. I prefer to leave that to others and employ their empirical research for projects such as this book. I also use the M.A. theses of my students, while my own research consists mainly of participatory observation and interviews with experts.
To liven up this text, I used my own experiences as an artist and began most sections in this book with an anecdote. The anecdotes are by my main character Anna, a visual artist. Sometimes she is my alter ego, while at other times she is the voice of an artist and art lover acquaintance.
By the age of 25, my early enthusiasm for serious art began to dwindle. I no longer appreciated the sombre atmosphere in the concert halls and museums and the snobbishness of many of the visitors, most of whom looked down on popular art. This began to influence my writing. Emotions can stimulate creativity, in both art and science. I hope that this shows from the text.
As I grew older and I was introduced to new and exciting developments in both the established and popular arts, I became increasingly interested in their histories. How did this disdain for popular art come about? And how did we end up where we are today? I also wondered: can we not get a better understanding of what is going on currently by examining developments that have been taking place since the late nineteenth century? I think the answer is a solid “yes”, and I hope that after you have read this book, you will agree.
Not unlike my earlier books and, in particular, my book Why are Artists Poor, I have chosen a relatively informal writing style that will be taken seriously by academics and students alike while also being accessible and interesting to a more general readership that includes artists, art students and art lovers. Enjoy.