Arts communication series part 2: challenges
The arts are arguably one of the most powerful but least-understood products of human civilisation. How we approach the arts and communicate about them requires us to face some of the real and pressing challenges that arts communicators face.
Understanding ‘arts’ talk
While it may seem immediately apparent to someone in the arts industry the significance of a ‘first’ exhibition in Singapore, a ‘world premiere’ by a composer, or even the term ‘performance art’, these terms may be confusing to audiences. In fact, confusing the audience is the lesser of our problems; alienating them is the real danger. There is a gap in literacy between people ‘in the know’ and everyone else, and this gap can make it intimidating for those who want to participate but don’t know how. At the same time, it can be seen as patronising and reductive to over-simplify concepts. Finding the balance is a challenging task.
Understanding how to talk about the arts
Instagrammable blockbuster exhibitions draw audiences in large numbers. Inspiring dancers who defy industry norms are popular and well-loved. But for many audiences, the engagement stops at uploading a photo or favouriting a tweet. Yet, artists and academics are regularly comfortable with the ambiguity of questioning the nature of art and aesthetics. Do audiences have to like every painting? Is it okay to think that dissonant music is ugly? Can ‘ugly’ music be valuable nonetheless? Do lines of a poem have to rhyme? How to talk about the arts is an essential part of engaging with audiences. The commonly-held idea that art is a beautiful, exclusive, and prescriptive experience for the elite can present a barrier to entry, but so can the idea that art is simply something pretty to post on social media.
Inquiring if the arts are really for everyone?
In answer to the question above, a loud “yes” resounds among arts advocates — but if we cannot hear any voices of dissent, we may be in an echo chamber. A lot of arts content is accused of preaching to the proverbial choir, and meanwhile, misconceptions about the place, role, and nature of the arts exist and thrive outside hallowed halls. It is not enough to create content for those who already understand the value of the arts, and who are already familiar with the axioms and paradigms of the landscape. We need to understand and address biases held against the arts, and create content that performs accordingly.