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Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Emergence of Mass Market For Cultural Products in the 18th Century

   Every fact that relates to "Modern" Art vs. any other kind of Art is predicated on the emergence of a mass market for Art itself.  The mass market for Art was itself part of a larger, well documented phenomenon, the emergence of a "public sphere" in society.  The emergence of a public sphere and concomitant emergence of an artistic mass market shared five major characteristics:

  1.   The growth of literacy and the so-called "reading revolution."
  2.   The exapansion of towns and the promotion of "urban values."
  3.   The rise of consumerism and the commercialization of leisure.
  4.   The proliferation of voluntary associations such as reading clubs, choral societies and masonic lodges.
  5.   The improvement of communications and postal service.

   This phenomenon was thoroughly explored in Part II of Tim Blannings, The Culture of Power and The Power of Culture: Old Regime Europe 1660-1789 (Oxford, 2002.) and developed in the context of music in Blannings'  The Triumph of Music (Harvard, 2008.)

  What this means is that modern art arose not DESPITE the "mass market" but rather BECAUSE of the mass market.  Without the Mass Market "Modern" Art of any kind: Literature, Painting, Music simply would not be possible.  A primary, non-musical example of this relationship is found in Ian Rogers, The Rise of The Novel.  Novelists of the mid 18th century, the ones responsible for "inventing" the Novel, were not self conscious literary aesthetes.  We know this to be a fact, because such types were around at the same time in the same place, and they worked in different circles- mostly as poets, not novelists.

         The novelists of the 18th century tended to be people already writing for a mass market of some sort and that fact probably delayed the sacralization process for the novel into the 19th century in that the existing "gatekeepers" of the mid 18th century, were prejudiced against art produced in order to "make a living."  Well tra la la.  It's funny that this prejudice towards economically successful art maintains itself, and strongly, to the very present. You can't begrudge the anti-Mass Market faction their opinion, since it is so strongly maintained, but it is appropriate to note that, historically, holders of this opinion come out the losers.  Like the Marxists from the Frankfurt School.  Look how that worked out.


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