Nobody Likes the Arts?

by Jaime Weinman

Bravo’s decision to cancel Arts and Minds and Bravo!News really saddens me. Though I hadn’t watched Arts and Minds much in the past few years after once being a regular viewer, so I was essentially part of the problem. John Doyle of the Globe and Mail has a piece about what the cancellation means for the place of the arts on TV – for TV interviews with writers who can’t get on The Daily Show to plug their books, or a camera crew showing up at “the opening of exhibitions, new opera and ballet productions,” and awards like the Giller prize. In short, it doesn’t mean anything good.

Bravo!, the Canadian version, kept up its arts channel identity far longer than the U.S. version, which has been almost exclusively a reality TV network for the last decade. As our own Bravo has changed its identity, it has, oddly, not gone in exactly the direction of the U.S. channel. Instead its model seems to be TNT: lots of procedural shows (The Mentalist, Criminal Minds, Flashpoint), some movies. A lot of programming that doesn’t really jive jibe with arts-centric programming except in the broader sense that these shows are aimed at an overall older audience.

It’s hard to say exactly what type of cable channel could, these days, successfully carry programming about the arts. (“The arts” being broadly defined as something that needs to sell to stay in business but can’t really be massively popular.) It used to be thought sometimes that the proliferation of specialty channels would eventually create a channel for everyone, but what happened instead is that many of the channels got more and more alike; it turned out that certain types of shows are more reliable money-makers than others, and that certain types of entertainment or art could not sustain a cable channel on their own.

One of the things that has taken up some of the slack is the HD movie theatre broadcast – but that’s not really a substitute for television, since it’s not as broadly available. And to the extent that these HD showings (and the DVDs they spin off) have discussions of the arts, they’re very carefully pre-packaged intermission features, not extensive interviews. These have largely migrated to YouTube, but often without the kind of editing and production values that can turn a backstage interview into something interesting or enlightening.

This might be considered an argument for why public television needs to get back into the game. Cable TV, as it turns out, is not a substitute for PBS or the CBC when it comes to arts television. (Cable is arguably beating public television at some things – for example, HBO’s documentaries have been very good lately, while PBS has had trouble keeping up. But PBS’s documentaries still have a broad reach, both in subject matter and audience, that makes them necessary.) It might be that there simply is no room for much arts television anywhere, particularly since a show like Arts and Minds had the old variety show problem: if a viewer was not interested in the particular type of art being covered in a certain segment, he or she would move on.




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Nobody Likes the Arts?

  1. Arts are certainly in demand, but they are badly done on television so people tend not to watch. They go to galleries and concert halls instead.

  2. A lot of programming that doesn’t really jive with arts-centric programming except in the broader sense that these shows are aimed at an overall older audience.

    Why would you expect programming to dance with programming, unless it’s dance programming.  (Dancing is an art form, ist it not?)

    Oh, on second thought, you probably mean “jibe”, not “jive”.

    • Thanks. I changed it, but this is a case where I kind of like the typo better. However, I don’t yet get to make up my own language. Someday.

  3. I believe “arts” should compete for consumer demand just like everything else. And, if some can’t, then the market has spoken. Simple.

    • Was there ever a time in the history of mankind where arts did compete for consumer demand like everything else? 

      • Cons tend to regard arts and culture as just another manufactured consumer product, like soap flakes and bunion pads.

      • Yes. How about municipality after municipality in this country, and others, that build some kind of venue for the arts, on taxpayer dime, that doesn’t attract a flock of paying seagulls. The justification always seems to be something to the effect “it’s for the betterment of our society” even though nobody except the elitist types want it, and somebody else always has to pay for it.

        Is that a good enough example for you?

        • How about municipality after municipality in this country that build some arena on taxpayer’s dime so that kids play hockey, paid by their parents who are then funded through the tax system?  Why is this OK for this government and art is not? 

          I like art.  I am not an elitist, much less than Stephen Harper who likes hockey.  In fact, though I can afford a visit to the museum and sometime a concert,  I can’t afford tickets to see the Leafs.  I am strictly over-the-air for TV – I can’t afford to watch the Leafs. I consider sports fans to be more elitists than art fans. 

          In the expression of art you find the travails of mankind, the denunciation of injustice in allegorical forms.  This has been done for centuries. Some rulers don’t like this.  I guess they find it a threat to their authority.

          • I’m glad to see that you’re now supporting my original claim, which is that art cannot sustain itself in the market, and the justification for supporting it with other people’s money is that it’s for our own good even though we don’t know it. You then have the chutzpah to suggest you don’t consider yourself an elitist. Fascinating.

            I obviously disagree with everything else you’re now bringing into it, but it all sidesteps my original point. Thank you.

          • Well, what is an elitist?  The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources, according to an online definition.  I am certainly not an elitist – I lack financial resources, intellect or social status. 

            I can assure you that art can sustain itself in the market.  Go check the websites of famous auctioneers and you’ll see that art is traded for phenomenal sums. What is elitist is the belief that only the rich can enjoy art – your belief.

          • You’re an elitist because you believe you know better than the people actually paying for your preferred recreational activities. You keep wanting to change topics and examples, but you have already ceded to mine, which is that municipal art venues don’t attract enough interest from the market. They need other people’s money, and it’s because people like you say it has to be that way. If that ain’t elitist, I don’t know what is. By the way, the words rich and elitist are not synonymous. Just thought I’d let you know.

        • I don’t think I know better.  I just know what I like - and I like art which doesn’t make me more of an elitist than someone who likes sports.    How many sports venues are paid by my municipal taxes? I don’t practise sports in arenas. Are hockey fans and parents of children who play hockey elitists by your definition because they think they know better than me and force me to pay for their preferred recreational activities ?  Sports fans and parents use my money and I don’t bitch about it because I have no problem with people who have different preferences from mine.  Such is mankind.

          • This is what you wrote to justify taxpayers funding your preferred recreational activity:


            In the expression of art you find the travails of mankind, the denunciation of injustice in allegorical forms. This has been done for centuries. Some rulers don’t like this. I guess they find it a threat to their authority.

            Yet again, you’re comparing apples to oranges. Music programs across the country get government funding, and I don’t complain about that. What this discussion was supposed to be about was reaching the market. Last time I checked, the Toronto Maples built their own arena and fill it every game because they have the market. They’re not demanding tax dollars from anyone, are they?

          • Amazing that Dennis admits he’s never been to a movie, or a concert, watched a play, gone to a museum,  or enjoyed a TV show….but that he’s keen to spend taxpayer money on hockey

            See….what HE does is ‘normal’….what you do is ‘elitist’. LOL

            Just ignore him…when it comes to ignorance Dennis was ‘born this way’.

  4. This is not new, though. witness “The Learning Channel” becoming TLC, and “The Arts and Entertainment network becoming A&E, home of Billy the Exterminator.

    A steady diet of operas and ballets is no more tolerable than a stady diet of wrestling. And a specialty channel is just that: a steady diet of one thing.

    • A steady diet of operas and ballets is no more tolerable than a stady
      diet of wrestling. And a specialty channel is just that: a steady diet
      of one thing.

      Isn’t a specialty channel just one channel on your plate though?  There’s a difference between “one can’t eat fillet mignon every meal of every day” and “filet mignon should be removed from all menus everywhere, and no longer sold in stores”.

      If “specialty channels” are going to just cater to the most common denominator the way the broadcast networks do, by filling their airwaves with procedurals and reality television, then they aren’t really “specialty” channels, are they?

      I don’t think anyone would argue that we need a steady diet of operas and ballets, but I’m not sure it’s crazy to argue that a channel licensed to broadcast operas and ballets shouldn’t fill their entire broadcast day with Kate plus Eight, Cake Boss, and re-runs of CSI.

      I know there’s a prevailing “let the market decide” wisdom in a capitalist country like Canada, but I have to say, I personally shed a tear every single time I turn to the History channel and see a re-run of JAG playing, or when I turn to The Learning Channel only to find “Say Yes to the Dress”.  Then again, I’m old school enough to remember when they actually used to play music on MTV and MuchMusic!

      • I am an opera fan – big time, and since childhood.  My dolls were Carmen, Manon, Violetta, Lucia…  I don’t have cable, so forget about a specialty channel for me, but I subscribe to the Metropolitan Opera website.  For US$15 a month, I can listen to as many recordings of past radio broadcast as I want and I can choose from a large selection of television broadcasts, and HD broadcasts.  I do realize that the Met is heavily subsidized by the rich. The Met archives are phenomenal.  On-demand is the future.  I think cable tv is dead, and those specialty channel are particularly dead.  Some of the most highly-rated shows come from OTA, as more and more people who can now afford to buy digital tvs move from cable to an OTA/streaming combo. 

  5. This combined with the ax’ing of the south bank show, puts into perspective where the Arts are in our culture. Sad day!

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