In 1989, I sat in front of my television and watched in awe as the Berlin Wall “came down.” I had visited the Wall two years before during my college journey across Europe and found it to be such an oppressive site. When it tumbled, it felt as if the whole world was being reborn, as if we were ushering in an era of possibility that had seemed unattainable weeks before.
Today, the walls are coming down in the arts too. We’re shedding many of the old methods and structures and ideologies that penned us in for so long. It’s not that our walls have toppled in one fell swoop; it’s more that we’ve been chipping away at them for years, and the holes are finally starting to show. The first daring souls have already ventured out, and every day, more and more follow.
But the absence of the walls is making some people nervous. I read an interview recently with a traditionally published author in which he said, “Nowadays anyone can print a book and call themselves an author.” But wasn’t that technically true all along? It’s not that the possibility never existed before, it’s that we never chose to see it. Reality hasn’t changed, only the way we define it has.
So if anyone and everyone can be an artist these days, if the gatekeepers are no longer anointing the chosen few, then aren’t we doomed to suffer a lot of bad art? Yep. We are also guaranteed to discover new forms and styles that would never have been “approved” under the old systems.
In the end, it’s not the gatekeepers who truly decide. It never was. It’s the marketplace. The arts are no different than any other business. If you open a restaurant with all the best intentions, but the food is bad, your restaurant will fail. No one will come back and no one will recommend it. The same is true if you open a clothing store and sell cheaply made goods or a dog walking service that operates only one day a week. It’s still about quality and delivery and service and connection. It always was.
If you think about it, nothing has really changed. What exists now always existed. It was just hidden behind the walls.