What is trickle-down culture? It works in the same way as trickle-down economics in that you give all the money resources and promotion/exposure to those at the top and it will trickle down to benefit everyone. It works about as well at its economic stable mate.
The best way to explain how it works is through an analogy based on sport. In this case the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association): imagine the GAA have established training grounds, floodlit pitches and centres of excellence all around the country. As it has. Now imagine it refuses to let anyone train or play at its facilities until they had played in an All Ireland senior match at Croke Park. Not only that, but none of the sports media outlets would publicise players until that time either. What effect do you think that would have on the sport? How long before people stopped going to the grounds to watch matches? How low would attendance drop until someone in the GAA did something?
This is what’s happening in our cultural world today; particularly in the visual arts sector. Visitor numbers to the majority of public galleries are down year on year. Arts publications are noting a decrease in readership numbers. Yes, you can point to social media and I’m sure that is a factor but, I think, a relatively small one.
Recently I read an article by an art critic whom I respect, lamenting that critics don’t have the public recognition they once had, that we don’t see them on TV in the way we once did. My response to this being that you need to present to the public new and exciting work from unknown artists from a diverse background, alongside established work in order to foster excitement in the public.
For instance, and I’m going to go off track here a bit, bear with me, John Peel was respected as a DJ and music talent spotter. Not because he had a golden touch and every band he played went on to great success. It was because he presented new and interesting work, often by unsigned bands. It was exciting listening to his show because he was so enthusiastic about music, but also because you didn’t know what you might discover next. This made his show popular among listeners and the music industry alike. Maybe only as little as 1% of the musicians he gave exposure to went on to some form of success. But that 1% is like a who’s who of influential music of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Since his untimely death, music feels as if it has flatlined a little, maybe you could say this is a coincidence.
This leads me back to culture in general, and especially visual art. It feels as if art critics and curators have stopped being interested in any artist not already represented and no-one wants to represent you unless you are being talked about, exhibited or “on trend” in some way. In a lot of ways that has always been the case. But there were always those brave few who wanted to push the undiscovered, explore the unfashionable or new. Instead, we have turned the path less travelled into an eight lane motorway that is almost imposable to traverse without being obliterated.
Now you could just dismiss this as the ranting of a bitter artist crying because no one finds his art interesting, and I have to admit there is an element of truth in that. But, if you really stop and think for one moment: when was the last time you went to a gallery or opened an art publication and found yourself truly engaged with what you saw?