SUE SPAID, BELLISSIMA!: REASSESSING ACCESS TO REDRESS MASS ART
1. The “Street Art” Quandary
Ever since Noël Carroll numerically classified mass art as “popular art produced and distributed by a mass technology” for mass consumption, most aestheticians followed suit. Taking cues from Walter Benjamin’s insight into mechanical reproduction’s impact on culture and John Berger’s analysis of the public’s capacity to identify with particular images, Carroll continues: “the category of mass art includes motion pictures, television, radio dramas, photography, music (recorded and broadcast), bestselling novels, comics, fiction magazines, and so forth. Mass artworks are such that they can be tokened in multiple instances.”[i] When Carroll first published A Philosophy of Mass Art, he described it as a first pass meant to inspire richer characterizations, a “charge” this paper aims to fulfill.
That Carroll's definition of “mass art” explicitly excludes today's massive catalog of street art suggests that it’s time to reassess his view. Given street art’s broad accessibility and mass appeal, as well as the Internet’s role in broadcasting its existence, I can’t imagine a genre more suitable for mass art than street art, which follows in the footsteps of ancient frescoes, public murals, and graffiti art. [ii] Carroll’s definition, which qualifies mass art as a subset of popular art that “require[s] a mass production and delivery technology,” most definitely disqualifies paintings presented outdoors, whatever the genre, as mass art. It should be noted that Carroll’s “popular art” category is far broader in scope than either Lawrence Alloway’s 1958 notion of “mass popular art,” which lumped together otherwise non-art formats including comic books, billboards, cars, science fiction, popular music, and westerns; or its successor Pop Art, the high-art movement that inspired Arthur Danto’s philosophical work.[iii]
Like Carroll, I consider mass art a subset of the rather broad category of popular art, and fully credit mass-delivery technologies, including the Internet, with boosting mass art’s appeal. Unlike Carroll, I attribute mass art’s popularity to actual audience reception, rather than to its having been produced with mass consumption in mind. By focusing on reception, my position accounts for works that end up being popular, despite their having been produced to resist popularity. This suggests that being popular indicates, rather than causes mass appeal. Some might view my position as privileging consumption over production, but I rather emphasize reception, since some cases specifically resist consumption, while others only incidentally prompt consumption.
In light of Carroll’s specific notion of mass art, I imagine readers automatically disputing my suggestion that mass art be revamped to include street art. I envision such readers considering street art exemplary of popular art, though not mass art. But does it really make sense to consider such a controversial and oft-despised genre as street art “popular art”? Even when street art’s size resembles that of billboards, it primarily advertises itself, not some other product. Works of street art are experienced by huge numbers, yet passersby either consider them serious art or dismiss them outright as vandalism. Given that street art varies considerably in terms of popularity and sophistication, it doesn’t easily qualify as popular art. To my lights, it makes more sense to focus on street art’s assumed accessibility (available to all) and its unexpected potential for mass appeal, given the tendency of its practitioners to self-identify as thrill seekers and innovators, and not entertainers.
Whatever the particularities of the category mass art, there is something about it that capably lures the largest possible audience, “the masses,” something that is not necessarily inherent in the term “popular art,” with which murals and their ilk are typically aligned. One imagines the audience for mass art being global, whereas the audience for popular art can be local, or those who actually show up to experience the art. While frescoes and murals often become revered tourist attractions, they’re not commercially-motivated, which is rarely the case for street art. One virtue of mass art is that some original can be experienced virtually without ever having to be present. One obvious distinction between the two categories concerns the way popular art is “made by the people, and for the people, as a happiness to the maker and the user”.[iv] Being a subset of popular art, mass art is also produced “for the people,” but mass art fails as mass art, if it’s not especially well-received. Popular art qualifies as popular, so long as it is suitable for the general public, while mass art’s popularity is quantifiable. As already noted, even Carroll’s view is numerical.
No doubt, those philosophers who uphold Carroll’s more narrow reading of mass art will counter that street art is irrelevant to mass art, especially the freely available, hand-painted, singular variety, that is neither consumable nor “mass producible” as Carroll envisioned. Being “right there on the street,” in the public's face, and available for the taking, street art seems to defy crass commercialization; but it certainly furnishes access, just as Carroll’s notion of mass art does. Accessibility means that it is destined for “fast pickup” by an untutored audience.[v] Being free for the taking certainly defies the cultural industry, but the masses are left to consume it, since someone else has produced it. Most important, street art typically doubles as a publicity stunt, spawning widespread demand for “tie-ins” such as decorated skateboards, collectible figurines, T-shirts, and posters —all classic mass-art vehicles.
Street artists’ tactics for generating media attention that prompts sales is not what makes it mass art. What makes it mass art is that people who witness it are so impressed that they inspire fans, sparking the demand for commercially-available “tie-ins.” At its origin in the early 20th Century, mass art worked the opposite way: it served to expand the audiences for high-art originals (symphonies, operas, plays, artworks, etc.). Herein lies another distinction between the popular arts, whose commodities are largely hand-crafted, and mass art, whose commodities are mass-produced. Twenty years since Carroll’s book, we must admit that Internet postings transform every experience, from casual meals to random sightings, into deliverable mechanical reproductions; a factor that Carroll could not have foreseen when he was developing his ontology of mass art during the nineties. And this constant registration of others’ skill sets is a form of reception. At its origin, the culture industry replaced products esteemed for their use value with those proffering ever more fungible exchange values, which has morphed into today’s taste value, such that notable consumers’ cultivated tastes embolden mass estimation, just as high prices do, transforming taste itself into a currency that spurs consumption.
With this paper, I characterize mass art in terms that not only cover Carroll’s classic examples, but make room for alternative forms (“alt-forms”), experiences of artistic merit that are experienced “live” or “in person” and are thus not originally “tokened” or broadcast, such as blockbuster museum exhibitions, street art, rock festivals, improvisational comedy, and even Mount Rushmore, whose very singularity distinctly convinced Carroll to deny it admission. The term “alt-forms” simply refers to mass art examples excluded from Carroll’s original list. Thus, mass art could include the Met’s annual fashion exhibition, whose over-the-top themes prompt ticket sales to the uber-exclusive Met Gala, which generates mass publicity, extended visiting hours, and eventual record attendances. Most of what Carroll identified
as “mass art” a quarter of a century ago might well be designated design today, and several examples discussed here probably qualify as spectacle, but I leave these points for another paper. Instead, I stick with Carroll's mass art category to see how far it can be massaged to fit alt-forms that ought to be included.
2. A New View of Mass Art
Carroll’s term mass art (MA) captures several points: 1) MA has a numerical connotation such that the greater the number of consumers, the greater the mass appeal. 2) MA has a historical connotation, particular to post-WWI art produced during the burgeoning influence of mechanical reproduction (print, radio, TV, film, etc.) known as mass media. 3) MA has an ideological connotation, particular to works devised to influence mass society to value or believe en masse particular ideas associated with the products they consume. 4) MA has a political connotation, particular to works directed at the masses, whose taste is deemed common, unrefined, or untutored. As proof that the masses prefer experiencing art to producing it, art historian Clement Greenberg observed, “The masses have always more or less remained indifferent to culture in the process of development.”[vi] This point suggests that contra popular art, mass art depends on reception, thus indicating a mass interest to participate. Even if the masses await culture, they determine its success.
To Carroll’s credit, his approach restored respect to the category of mass art, previously reviled by high-art custodians such as Frankfurt School philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in the 1940s, as well as Greenberg, whose earlier essay “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” (1939) used the German kitsch to cover “popular, commercial art and literature with their chromeotypes, magazine covers, illustrations, ads, slick and pulp fiction, comics, Tin Pan Alley music, tap dancing, Hollywood movies, etc., etc.”[vii] Greenberg further clarifies:
“Kitsch is a product of the industrial revolution which urbanized the masses of Western Europe and America and established what is called universal literacy. Prior to this the only market for formal culture, as distinguished from folk culture, had been among those who, in addition to being able to read and write, could command the leisure and comfort that always goes hand in hand with cultivation of some sort. This until then had been inextricably associated with literacy. But with the introduction of universal literacy, the ability to read and write became almost a minor skill like driving a car, and it no longer served to distinguish an individual's cultural inclinations, since it was no longer the exclusive concomitant of refined tastes.”[viii]
To my lights, vaulted attendance figures demonstrate the public's estimation that mass art is not only accessible (mass appeal), but that witnessing it will accord them access to cultural experiences otherwise deemed off-limits. This paper thus defends the following definition of mass art.
1) Mass art arises when aficionados aided by mass-delivery technologies, 2) act on beliefs regarding mass art's accessibility, and its capacity to afford them access to artworks of greater or equal value, which 3) motivates mass appeal, thus prompting the eventual mass consumption by untutored audiences.
In other words, mass art arises when cultural aficionados, who believe that a work's contents are broadly accessible, assess that consuming it will afford them ready access to artworks of greater or equal value. Just as Adorno and Horkheimer credited people’s willingness to conform and work hard to their belief that “success is possible,” people who experience mass art do so because they believe that it is accessible and rewarding.[ix]
Returning to the street art example, firsthand experiences offer aficionados access to artworks of equal value, while purchasing commercially-available “tie ins” (street art collectibles) offer consumers access to artworks of greater value. In fact, mass art originated to offer consumers access to artworks of greater value, such as access to an opera they might not experience otherwise. Powerful firsthand experiences spawn mass appeal for related commodities, if not help to spread the word, something that is no less true of “high art” originals, though their sales volumes are comparatively minuscule and their production costs are exorbitant. Not surprisingly, most of the world’s symphonies “run an operating deficit, in the sense that the money they earn from concerts, records, and so forth does not cover their expenses.”[x] Prior to the millennial rise of online music streaming, rock and indie bands generated most of their income from album sales, but these days record sales have seriously slumped, making concerts bands’ primary income generator.[xi] No doubt, what consumers discover online about musicians drives both the mass appeal for and eventual mass consumption of their live acts. Between 2012 and 2016 in the UK alone, concert attendance doubled to 27mm tickets sold, while festival attendance increased by 1mm people.[xii]
Quite by chance, I experienced both Banksy’s group exhibition Dismaland[xiii] and Christo’s Floating Piers.[xiv] Trapped in hours-long, winding lines and slammed between surprisingly patient, spirited throngs of international travelers, I had plenty of time to ponder why thousands had ventured out in (unprotected) drizzling rain and (mostly unprotected) blistering sun, respectively. I even witnessed a lively debate aboard Trenitalia where some riders blamed free admission and the prospect of democratized art for the hoards causing train delays, reduced visiting hours, and restaurant malfunctions. Anticipating the masses awaiting them at their final destination, several riders noted that at least “elite art” allows appreciative spectators proper viewing conditions, void of looky-loos. Upon arrival, the only word I heard for the rest of the whole day was “Bellissima!”
Both the press and the organizers seemed genuinely surprised that the piers lured about 50% more visitors (1.2 million) in 16 days than attended the 2012 documenta in 100 days, while tiny Dismaland's daily attendance (4500 per day) doubled that of the 2015 Venice Biennale! Despite Dismaland’s £3 entry fee and the piers' complimentary admission, affordability is insufficient to explain their mass appeal, especially since Venice Biennale or documenta tickets cost less than dinner out. What follows builds on insight gleaned during these two memorable mass art experiences.
3. Satisfied Consumers: Acting on Beliefs
In contrast to the view of mass art proposed here, Carroll wrote, “My theory of mass art states three conditions that are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for something to count as mass art. To iterate: X is a mass artwork if and only if 1. X is a multiple instance or type artwork, 2. produced and distributed by a mass delivery technology, 3. which is intentionally designed to gravitate toward those choices which promise accessibility for the largest number of untutored (or relatively untutored) audiences.”[xv] The first thing that one notices is that his definition of mass art excludes alt-forms. Although alt-forms are designed to be directly experienced, they typically furnish mass-consumable reproductions (recall that Carroll's view excludes plays, though presumably not simulcasts). No doubt, fans posting souvenir snaps online enhance attendance, inspiring ever more people to experience for themselves what their friends already have, despite repeat Italian news alerts warning locals not to waste their time negotiating the sea of confused summer tourists. And perhaps Carroll himself would agree that photographable alt-forms are not only tokenable, but the tokens generated by alt-forms should count as mass art. It thus seems odd to consider the tokens generated by some event, such as Instagram postings, that draw large audiences mass art; though not the underlying event that makes the postings possible. I stress events, such as blockbuster exhibitions and street art, unlike renowned artworks such as the Mona Lisa and David that don’t necessitate assessment. Such inconsistencies underscore what Carroll's original characterization of mass art got right (technology improves access) and what it fails to address (well-attended alt-forms deserve mass art status). As I try to explain, alt-forms rate as mass art because an unexpectedly large number of people assess them to be accessible, not because they lure huge numbers of people.
In our era when airfares can cost less than new books, Carroll's token constraint is not only way too limiting, but his accessibility condition misrepresents accessibility, which consumers must assess. Consider the case of Dismaland visitors. Given renowned graffiti artist Banksy's key role, aficionados formed beliefs regarding the likelihood of its being accessible, even before receiving this alt-form. The set of beliefs regarding the potential benefits accrued by visiting it (the expected experience minus the money/time spent traveling to Weston-super Mare and waiting in line) prompted vaulted attendance figures, not the fact that it had been designed to be mass art. Like street art more generally, I doubt that it was designed to be “mass art,” yet numerous visitors anticipated their hard-worn efforts being compensated. One can’t even claim that mass art is the kind of thing that impresses its accessibility onto people, because mass art's accessibility is hardly spontaneous or immediate. In contrast to Carroll's view that mass art is “designed to be accessible,” mass art is rather the kind of thing that people experience because they deem it accessible and anticipate that experiencing it will be rewarding. Berger's Ways of Seeing cast Mona Lisa as the poster gal for universal appeal in 1972, a view Marcel Duchamp happened upon in 1919 when he drew a goatee around her mouth in order to reinstate the particularity of his postcard of her![xvi]
Technology, whether a photo, motion picture, or website, offers art aficionados handy tools for evaluating accessibility and enhancing consumers' access to artworks of greater value, just as technology aids eaters to assess their best dining options. As numbers go, one need only sell 9000 novels in the first week to rate as a NYT best seller (only 3000 at WSJ), so Dismaland (31,500 visitors the first week) and Christo's piers (500,000 the first week) dwarf bestseller audiences. Consider that HD opera simulcasts and online streaming have tended to encourage ticket sales. Being niche broadcasting, contemporary TV reaches far smaller audiences than ever before, yet it remains mass art all the same with millions of home entrepreneurs conceiving ever new ways to lure online viewers to purchase desired content that they’ve managed to copy and post to their personal online channels.
As briefly noted, Carroll couldn't have foreseen the way technology, especially amazon.com, Facebook, and youtube.com, can be used both to convey and to assess a work's accessibility. I imagine Carroll considering websites of artists and galleries mass art, even as they grant consumers access to ‘avant-garde art,’ much the way yesteryear's Life magazine did. Souvenir photographs of alt-forms distributed online must also qualify, because the Internet is ‘designed to be easy, to be readily accessible, with minimum effort, to [reach] the largest number of people possible.’[xvii] Most problematic is the way Carroll's token constraint keeps mass art's reception always at a remove, as it privileges watching broadcasts, listening to recordings, or looking at pictures: of some artwork, which presumably has an even greater value, otherwise it would be unreasonable to distribute reproductions of them in mass quantities. Carroll's view rightly characterizes mass art as according consumers access to something worth consuming, but a definition of mass art doesn’t require access to be placed at a remove or direct access to be excluded, as his token restraint does.
Carroll got the accessibility part right, but his position misdiagnoses what makes mass art accessible, because he's overly focused on mass delivery technologies, rather than technology's role in helping people to determine accessibility, a point that is no truer today than it was for films, magazines, and radio/TV broadcasts decades ago. I have a hunch that Carroll might counter that alt-forms don't make the grade because they don't reach out to the consumer, the way radio, television, and magazines do. In fact, live performances require people to reach out to mass art, requiring consumers to travel great distances to attend the Groundlings, or some special art exhibition. By contrast, anything posted online reaches the consumer as Carroll envisioned. Informed beliefs, typically guided by technology's tools, capably color whether reaching out to mass art is viewed as an inconvenience or an adventure.
Carroll rightly credits mass art with mass appeal, but mass art's “mass appeal” isn't due to its being designed as mass art, otherwise there would be no such thing as sleeper hits. In fact, mass art arises, because large numbers of people expect it to be accessible, even when it isn't. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Movie,” the world’s second box office hit in 2016, remains a case in point, especially for “untutored” “Star Wars” watchers like myself. Convinced of mass art's accessibility, the masses acted on said beliefs: that is, lots of people believed they ought to consume this film. Under Carroll's view, a film designed for mass appeal is mass art whether it's a hit or a flop, even though flops fail to be “mass-consumed.” For Carroll's supply-driven view to succeed, every mechanically reproduced bit of mass art must be accompanied by a “crack” marketing campaign, capable of exploiting every last remaindered token.
Carroll’s numerical characterization of mass art suggests that mass art automatically elicits mass appeal, but this inverts the order of things, especially when marketing occupies 25% of mass art's budget. Mass appeal, not mere supply, gives rise to mass art. No one would attempt to mass-produce posters, t-shirts, records, and television shows without first assessing the strength of the product’s mass appeal to transform curiosities into sales. Mass consumption is driven by demand, a demand that is tied to beliefs regarding the rewards of access, not actual supply. People don't buy Mona Lisa postcards because millions are available in gift shops across the globe, but because they believe that owning such cards grants them access at will to something precious that is otherwise off limits. I imagine Parisians, who can visit her anytime, being less likely to entertain the idea of buying her postcard. After adopting the belief that the mass art in question is accessible, potential consumers assess whether its consumption augments other cultural possibilities. And if it does, voilà, mass consumption occurs in spades, spawning mass art.
Despite the relationship of Carroll's classic cases to underlying artworks, he strangely never recognized that mass art is especially popular (and useful) because it always facilitates access to works of greater or equal value. Behind every recording, film, or simulcast is an actual concert, performed narrative or exotic destination, imagined story, or opera occurring in real time, that mass art consumers deem otherwise inaccessible. Being so caught up in mechanical reproduction, technology, and reach, Carroll failed to see that mass art serves as a bridge. And its soaring popularity reflects the fact that it usually bridges something whose bridge is otherwise drawn, such as unaffordable Met opera tickets, or access to celebrity artists, live performances, or “esoteric artworks.” On this level Christo's floating piers were genius, because they exposed mass art's role as a bridge by actually being a bridge that let everyone traverse Lake Isola on foot to visit two islands: one that is privately owned, and therefore always off limits, and another that is accessible only by costly Vaporettos. Christo’s piers suddenly granted anyone in the world who could get themselves to this lake access to a once in a lifetime event. It’s no wonder Isola was flooded with people.
4. Dissatisfied Consumers: Moving from Pride to Shame
The most obvious criticism to my reassessment of mass art will be lodged by traditionalists who see a value in upholding mass art as a distinct category, whose numerical features of mass-production, tokenability, and mass consumption distinguish it from other types of art. Since alt-forms typically lack at least one of these traits, traditionalists would exclude them. To my lights, this narrow definition not only misses the beauty of mass art's capacity to signal mass appeal, but it overlooks consumers' feelings of pride or shame when they do or don't identify as consumers. Consider Carroll's distinguishing mass art from avant-garde art:
Avant-garde art is esoteric: mass art is exoteric. Mass art is meant to command a mass audience. That is its function. Thus it is designed to be user friendly. Ideally, it is structured in such a way that large numbers of people will be able to understand and appreciate it, virtually, without effort. It is made in order to capture and to hold the attention of large audiences, while avant-garde art is made to be effortful and to rebuff easy assimilation by large audiences. In so far as mass art is meant to capture large markets, it gravitates toward the choice of devices that will make it accessible to mass untutored audiences.[xviii]
Building upon Berger's insight into the ways in which people identify with images, mass art's appeal reflects widely held beliefs about its universal access, what some Trenitalia riders demeaned as “democratized art.” Carroll claims that “mass art must be comprehensible for untrained audiences, virtually on the first go-round.”[xix] But of course the TV show of the orchestra playing x or the CD of the orchestra playing x is no more “comprehensible” than the live version, so this is clearly a false claim. Moreover, the person who listens to the CD over and over or reads some book over and over does so to transform something inscrutable into something comprehensible. “First go-round comprehensibility” is an absurd benchmark!
Carroll's mass art/avant-garde art distinction credits consumers with finding mass art's accessibility rewarding, while consumers who turn to avant-garde art fulfill some challenge that is rewarding in itself. To my lights, Carroll's accessibility restraint functions better than his token restraint, which limits mass art cases to tokenable artworks (at a remove),
and thus excludes alt-forms that provide surprisingly large numbers of people enjoyable firsthand experiences.
I also worry that mass art has been tied to mechanically-produced objects for so long that aestheticians might find grouping singular sensations alongside reproducible tokens confusing. I thus recommend swinging mass art away from mass-produced to mass-received. It just seems more consistent to consider artworks that generate huge crowds exemplary of mass art, independent of whether they are live action or broadcast. To Carroll's credit, he was among the first to defend mass art against its critics, who found anything with mass appeal suspicious. Since such preconceptions are no longer de rigeur, we are finally liberated to appreciate video games, Mardi Gras parades, and Burning Man, though “selling out” is still uncool.
At the 2016 meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics in Seattle, “Grunge” panelist Aaron Meskin posed the puzzle of why Nirvana's original fans decided they sucked once they became famous. To my lights, the above characterization of mass art could explain these fans' changed attitudes. Nirvana's originally close, immediate circle of fans, not only identified with Nirvana's message, which they thought only they appreciated, but they also felt a sense of pride as “in the know” esoteric consumers. They erroneously believed that Nirvana’s music was the sort of thing that only they as locals could grasp, so when it hit big (thanks to technology), the original fans felt shame. I imagine that they hadn’t anticipated that what spoke uniquely to them might actually have universal appeal, delegitimizing any sense of specialness and particularity. Some fans may have even felt deceived by Nirvana's pretense to esoterica, while others soon realized that their initial assessment of Nirvana's inaccessibility was dead wrong. What the first fans thought was their special movement turned out to have mass appeal, surprising everyone, not the least of which was Kurt Cobain himself.
Mass art is indeed a phenomenon, one that seems extremely difficult to intentionally “pull off,” as Carroll's insistence that mass art is designed for mass appeal suggests. My gaining access “to artworks of greater or equal value” constraint excludes artifacts, whether mechanically-produced or direct experiences, that are merely entertaining or enjoyable, and lacking in artistic value.
5. Revisiting Mass Art and Popular Art
In light of the new definition of mass art proposed here, I now attempt to clarify several claims about mass art and popular art. Carroll and others characterize mass art as a subset of popular art, in particular one that involves mechanical delivery technologies. But I wonder whether these categories aren’t actually distinct. To my lights, what characterizes mass art is that it prompts mass appeal, not because it is widely accessible, but because people deem it so. With popular art, one rarely feels compelled to assess its accessibility, primarily because accessibility is presumed. And this stipulation applies broadly to other notions of popular art, whether “mass popular art,” the Pop Art genre, as well as folkloric traditions, cultural heritage, or mass culture, more generally. Consider carnival parades like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, US; Le Carneval de Binche en Belgique; or Carnaval de Trinité-et-Tobago. One might not know anything about these different, though related parades, their history, or the traditions underlying their vastly different costumes and rituals/festivities, let alone speak these languages; but one doesn’t worry that they might be grossly inaccessible, which is why they are so popular.
An event that prompts anxiety or requires assessment is ultimately a poor candidate for popular art, which explains my original intuition that street art is mass art, and not popular art. Other candidates for popular art include fireworks, a sea of protestors sporting pink pussy cat hats, and Burning Man, all events that might charge a fee or have products available for sale, but are not organized specifically to inspire awareness in/for mass-produced items. One reason that mass art requires assessment is that it often shares a link with high art, however disguised the tie. In fact, many street artists realize that their success at merchandising mass art tie-ins partly depends on their convincing the public that the artworld also appreciates their efforts.[xx] Of course, Carroll’s notion of mass art doesn’t require assessment, since for him anything delivered via mass technology counts as mass art. But in today’s era of mass art abundance, consumption begins by making choices. And technology definitely facilitates assessment.
Under Carroll’s view, street art is automatically classified as popular art, but as I’ve tried to explain, street art is neither necessarily popular nor easily accessible. When it is popular in terms of mass appeal, or sheer numbers of tourist visitors, it is rather the result of people having researched the Internet to discern its accessibility. As I’ve tried to indicate, it’s nearly impossible to design something to be popular, which is why marketing kicks in. There is always an asymmetry between how mass art is designed and how aficionados actually respond to it. With this in mind, it’s rather exceptional when mass art generates vaulted attendances, especially for works assessed to be challenging, given the reported crowds, delays, expenses, or bizarre content. No one can guarantee, let alone anticipate crowd reaction. Street art’s influence as mass art is measured by how many people know about it, yet its success as mass art reflects each visitor’s assessing that experiencing it will be worth the time and money invested, to the point that the multitudes accelerate attendance. That aficionados inevitably choose between keeping it real or experiencing it virtually reflects mass art’s ultimate impact.
Unlike popular art, whose value is more social or heritage-oriented than economic, those bent on selling commercial goods depend on mass art to generate soaring attendance records. Dismaland generated £20mm income for Weston Super-mare.[xxi] And like a World’s Fair or Olympics, Christo’s piers generated cash to support the creation of a new railway. As noted above, live performances recently replaced album sales as the commercial goods to be sold, meaning that consumption patterns matter. To my lights, mass-produced, mass-distributed, and tokenability are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions, as compared to high demand, belief in accessibility, and consumption according access to valuable artworks. Artistic forms that don't prompt vaulted attendances are not mass art.
For these reasons, mass art serves as a bridge, because it inspires far more people to get engaged than would otherwise, making the shared experience all the more ‘rewarding.’ It’s a bit like watching a film in a crowded movie house, as opposed to one that’s practically empty.[xxii] To conclude, I recommend that the Mass Art classification accommodate both alt-forms and Carroll's classic examples thusly: 1) Mass art arises when aficionados aided by mass delivery technologies, 2) act on beliefs regarding mass art's accessibility, and its capacity to afford them access to artworks of greater or equal value, which 3) motivates mass appeal, thus prompting the eventual mass consumption by untutored audiences.
[i]Noël Carroll (1998). A Philosophy of Mass Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 3.
2 I thank John Carvahlo for challenging me to explain why street art, “Dismaland,” or Christo’s piers ought to count as mass art and not popular art.
[iii] Sue Spaid (2019). “Mad Men & Pop Art.” Handbook on Arthur C. Danto. London: Wiley-Blackwell.
[iv] William Morris (1902). The Art of the People, Chicago: Ralf Fletcher Seymour, Publisher. Pp. 35-6.
[v] Carroll, p. 192.
[ix] Carroll, 74.
Accessed 19 August 2018.
Accessed 19 August 2018.
Accessed 19 August 2018.
[xiii] Dismaland. Weston super-Mare, UK, 2015.
[xiv] Floating Piers. Isola, IT, 2016.
[xv] Carroll, 232.
14Incidentally, Malevich pasted Mona Lisa atop his 1914 painting Composition with La Gioconda (Partial eclipse).
[xvii] Carroll, 192.
17 In 2003, Christian Strike and Aaron Rose, who operated skater gallery Alleged (1992 to 2002) in New York City, Tokyo, and Los Angeles; moved street art to the artworld when they curated “Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture” for the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, US.
[xxi] https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/sep/25/banksys-dismaland-closes-weston-super-mare. Accessed 20 August 2018.
[xxii] I heartily thank Casey Haskins, whose constructive criticism as the respondent to this paper at the 75th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics in New Orleans really helped me to shape its fuller development.