Davos08: Conversation v. performance

Last night, I got to go to a cultural dinner with a dozen artists scattered around the room: pick your person, pick your medium. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma was at the table behind; Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, writer and director of the wonderful film The Life of Others to the left; theatrical artist Peter Sellaras to the rear; musician Peter Gabriel limping (on a broken foot) from over there.

I grabbed a chair at novelist Paulo Coelho‘s table because I’d heard some of his story of interacting with his community of readers at DLD and wanted to hear more (and I’ll call him to write a longer post soon). I was having a ball but then the dinner shifted to presentations from the artists, starting with Catterina Fake, who showed how she enables art from everyone on Flickr. Some of the talks were good, some weren’t.

What really struck me was the contrast between conversation and performance. Of course, we value performance from artists. But given the opportunity to converse — on a blog or at a dinner — we have a richly different experience: probing, questioning, responding, learning. Is conversation art? Well, of course it can be. I don’t mean to say one is better than the other, but once the artist stands before an audience, it can become an act of showing off. It becomes, almost by definition, self-conscious.

Now clearly, artists can’t afford constant conversation. But note that more and more, artists are using their art to promote their appearances — note Madonna’s new representation deal that puts concerts first and Peter Gabriel’s argument that pirated CDs are marketing for concerts. It’s not just a matter of economics — the record business falling apart — but also of a new relationship between artists and fans, who seek more of a personal touch, more of a relationship. Coehlo, in return, also seeks a relationship. That is why he blogs.

In an era when media, including art, are becoming dominated by the internet, we need to recognize the impact of the idea that the internet is less about content and more about relationships. Is art at its heart content or a relationship, a conversation?

  • Jeff and I concluded, and correct me if I am wrong, that not blogging everyday is like not calling your mom… So, we always find time. Someone in our table said to me: “you spend ONE HOUR in Internet???”. If she ever knew the truth, she would have an indigestion.

  • I have recently signed up for Novatunes, a music service that seems to address some of the issues that you have mentioned, ie. it is possible to listen to music online, as much as you like, before buying and through the community (social networking) element of the site, artists can see who buy their albums. I don’t know if this is a sustainable model for the music industry but I think it is an interesting model to watch.

  • It will indeed be an interesting era for all aspects of media, the shifting economics of making money as an artist, and the relationship they have with the consumers. As a photographer, I often have work used without permission or compensation. Generally I would have gladly offered use of my work – it just would have been wonderful to get to know the person who is requesting it.

  • Jeff,

    Sorry, this is OT.

    It looks like Iraqi blogger Zeyad Kasim, whom you helped bring to the US, was part of the first graduating class in the new MA program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. What is he doing now? Is he going to stay in the States or return to Iraq? It would be interesting if at some point you wrote up an overview of the progress the program has made since it started. I’d love to read any news about Zeyad or the MA program.


  • Jeff, did you have a chance to catch Tim O’Reilly’s panel on the future of ads? If so, looking forward to your take on it.

    Kevin Heisler
    Executive Editor
    Search Engine Watch

  • Jeff,

    Art is being “dominated” by the Internet?

    Just because artists are promoting themselves and their work on the Internet suddenly art is a “conversation”? Just because a few of them show up at Davos they’re part of a larger phenomenon?

    Kinda thin, that argument.