A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Networker

William Deresiewicz, tracing a history of the creative process, notes that for today’s artist, “10,000 hours is less important now than 10,000 contacts.” So what kind of art should we expect from new generations of highly networked, creatively diversified makers?

What we see in the new paradigm—in both the artist’s external relationships and her internal creative capacity—is what we see throughout the culture: the displacement of depth by breadth. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? No doubt some of both, in a ratio that’s yet to be revealed. What seems more clear is that the new paradigm is going to reshape the way that artists are trained. One recently established M.F.A. program in Portland, Oregon, is conducted under the rubric of “applied craft and design.” Students, drawn from a range of disciplines, study entrepreneurship as well as creative practice. Making, the program recognizes, is now intertwined with selling, and artists need to train in both—a fact reflected in the proliferation of dual M.B.A./M.F.A. programs.

The new paradigm is also likely to alter the shape of the ensuing career. Just as everyone, we’re told, will have five or six jobs, in five or six fields, during the course of their working life, so will the career of the multiplatform, entrepreneurial artist be more vagrant and less cumulative than under the previous models. No climactic masterwork of deep maturity, no King Lear or Faust, but rather many shifting interests and directions as the winds of market forces blow you here or there.

But Robinson Meyer doubts that Deresiewicz is sizing up a real sea change in how art gets made:

The value of any discipline, whether craft or art, is not extracted solely by experts. In his essay, Deresiewicz approves of how Gertrude Stein once scolded Picasso for writing poetry. I have also heard Picasso was a terrible poet, but I really don’t know, and I can’t hazard whether some iambic innovation would have spurred him to paint differently.

I am not Picasso, though, and neither are you. And in the world I’d like to live in, everyone—whether they’re a famous painter or a CPA—would feel as though they can explore the breadth of human expression, whether through writing poetry or learning about Chinese pottery or even researching historical pickling methods. If cultural democracy comes, my guess is it will not look like 100 million specialists. It will appear as a society of curious minds, captivated by human traditions and inspired to improve upon them, interested in the many places in the world where humans have spent their attention—and hungry to invest more.