Pigeon Review and the State of the Arts

Pigeon Review is a new literary and art journal. Their second set of stories was just released online, and I wrote one of them. I’m not writing this to plug my own story (Although it would make me happy if people read and enjoy it. It’s available here.) I want to plug Pigeon Review and talk a bit about the state of the arts.

The internet started going mainstream when I was in my early twenties. AOL and CompuServe were doing everything in their power to sign new customers. The press and advertisements were everywhere. One of the things they talked about a lot was how the internet would democratize everything. As an art lover, I read over and over about how great this was going to be for music, literature, film, and the visual arts. The gatekeepers were going away and nothing would stop the truly talented from shining.

Needless to say, the predictions were nearly completely wrong. A handful of companies now control almost everything. There are oases of sort of freedom like WordPress, BandCamp, Etsy, and YouTube. I say sort of because they are still owned and/or controlled by the big guys (everyone is stuck trying to get a good ranking from Google’s algorithm). But these places (and some others) let anyone who wants to post upload almost anything they want to. That sounds a lot better than it is. It effectively cuts aspiring artists off from funding and makes discovering anything new next to impossible. If consumers relied on these channels, it would be more than a full-time job searching for things they may like.

Virtually everything that isn’t self-produced goes through the major media companies and those companies are incredibly conservative. I don’t mean conservative in the political sense, but rather risk-averse. Nothing gets made without a guarantee of profit. They stick to artists with proven track records and reliable formulas. Publishers are more concerned with an author’s social media following than the quality of the writing. Everything has to fit a marketing category. Hard-to-describe is worse than bad.

This state of affairs has made it hard to be an art-lover. (It’s hard for the artists as well, but many people have written about that.) Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of what is being made now. I’ve read some great books, seen some great movies, and listened to a bunch of great music released in the past few years. The problem is that it’s all pretty much the same. It’s safe, easy, and pleasant. (WandaVision came tantalizingly close to being wonderfully different, but wound up being more of the same.) Sometimes the most beautiful things are controversial, difficult, and abrasive. We’ve lost those things.

Many, if not most, people won’t care about this loss. That’s OK. People should enjoy what they enjoy without shame. There’s no right or wrong (Except the White Stripes. If you enjoy the White Stripes, you’re wrong.) But, for those of us who truly love the arts, who crave the new and exciting, it is a difficult time. The two sides of the arts, Anarchy and Oligarchy, are both incapable of getting us what we want.

Anarchy might be acceptable if we didn’t have to work, take care of our kids, sleep, eat, and things like that. If I could spend all my time combing the internet for songs, stories, drawings, and films that I like, I’m sure I’d find a lot. I don’t have that kind of time. I need curators to help me. Not just any curator will do, though. The oligarchic curators just push the boring sameness. I’ve been on Spotify for over a decade. In that time, it has not recommended even a single song that I liked and hadn’t heard before. That’s where Pigeon Review comes in.

Nathaniel and Darcy have taken it upon themselves to act as independent curators. They are taking the time that I don’t have and at least giving me a starting place. I like what I see so far. They are not the only ones, and, unfortunately, finding good curators is something of an anarchic project, but since I found one I like, I wanted to share with everyone else. Check them out. And if you have any curators you like, I’d love to hear about them.

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