On the Worthlessness of Modern Art

by Robert Nagle on 6/2/2004

in General,Literary/Ebooks

Dan Green skewers Eric Gibson’s remark that the burning of a buildingful of art is not that great of a tragedy. Now perhaps we ought to indulge Mr. Gibson a little; after all, critics are paid to be provocative and say ridiculously hyperbolic things (I remember the quote by Candide: That critic must be brilliant–he hates everything!). But I do notice a certain snobbery towards the contemporary. I remember a cantankerous essay a year or two ago in the American Scholar complaining that we have too many writers and books–and good riddance to them.

Once, at sxsw, the Rogue Librarian, after glowing at the good luck of finding rare and obscure papers by Malcolm X, expressed almost indifference to the need for publicly-funded libraries to archive/acquire original works by living publishers/authors. For her (and I realize that I’m stretching her words somewhat to make a point), saving Malcolm X’s laundry list is a much more important job than helping to preserve the writings of Idiotprogrammer, who has never published a book or so much as an essay in a mainstream publication. Of course, her disdain was motivated partly by the need to prioritize resources and this attitude that “you’re alive; why can’t you do the archiving instead of sucking on the public teat?” The point I was making was: if I donated my self-published book to a library in the city where I lived, the library ought to carry it; talking more abstractly, the library ought to be willing to archive/hold digital content and adopt a more open acquisition policy. This is especially true for digital content, where the actual cost of physical storage doesn’t exist (although that does not imply that the costs are nonexistent). I suspect a lot of artists share my belief that the difference between the celebrity/artist and unknown artist is negligible; sure, updike may have more talent than I do; but at some point, you need to ask whether certain acclaimed artists deserve special resources and attention. And who requires more of the librarian’s attention: the acclaimed writer or the unknown writer?

One smart archive tip: if you want archive.org to crawl your site and keep a permanent record of its contents, one surefire way to do is to install the Alexa toolbar. If you are interested in these issues, check out my coverage of the e(x)literature conference.

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