Friday, December 03, 2010

Great Expectations

This story, about a public conversation between Steve Martin and the art critic and journalist Deborah Solomon is a telling slice of our times.   The promoter and some slice of the audience apparently expected a series of funny take-home lines and some celebrity-grade gossip and insider talk but were disappointed to instead hear a serious chat about modern art, for which the promoter is now offering full refunds.  

While there is perhaps something to be said here about truth in advertising, as the expectations of the audience, when offered a public conversation with Mr Martin, were probably reasonable when given no explicit indication that the theme of the evening would be modern art (a topic both participants know well) rather than mass media entertainment.  On the other hand, however, it's a bit disappointing that no one (the promoter in particular) has made the case for the value of the topic chosen, whether advertised beforehand, or — and more refreshingly so — delivered to the audience as a surprise, a present making some respectful assumptions about the audience.

In any case, I will admit myself to have, on at least one occasion, delivered a talk on a topic other than that which had been announced beforehand.  Rather than talking about some detail of composition, I spontaneously decided to talk about games of skill and chance — poker and ponies, to be precise — and somehow managed to keep my audience with me for the appointed hour and, as far as I can tell, not one member asked for a refund.  But before you assume that I was slacking on the assumption that sometimes you can just get away with it, let me assure you that games of skill and chance — and poker and ponies in particular — have everything to do with composing music, as far as I'm concerned.  But that's another topic, for another post, another day.



jodru said...

For me, as a New Yorker, the story is handy evidence of just how provincial New York audiences are capable of being. This city is no different than any other. It's just bigger.

These folks wanted to hear about It's Complicated, not things that are actually complicated. There's nothing wrong with that at all, but people who regularly feel condescended to by New Yorkers should take heart in a story like this.

Daniel Wolf said...


I think that rather than describing the New York audience as provincial, this story is a good illustration of now that audience is, as a rule, no better or worse than audiences elsewhere. I was an undergraduate in a west coast town where it was not unusual to get an audience of several hundred for an experimental music concert; imagine my disappointment when I first went to concerts in New York in which audiences often hovered in the teens, and even then reflected very strong divisions among the new music concert-goers.