"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Friday, June 17, 2011

Into the arts scene

I've lived in the Bay Area my whole life, and I like to think I'm a fairly art-savvy citizen of a fairly artsy town. Every time I drive home from college, I seem to have systematically bought tickets to a show for that very night - just couldn't wait to get my Bay Area culture fix after a few months in the deserts of SoCal. By the end of this week, I'll have gone out to see four movies, including both a classic Arthur Penn picture at the Pacific Film Archive and 'Super 8.' I also like to take in an opera or a symphony every so often, and I've already been through three museum exhibitions and several galleries in the last month. So I get around.

But my first on-the-job foray into the local arts listings left me feeling just a bit overwhelmed. Part of my job is to scroll through anything and everything that's happening in the realm of art during a given week and filter out the best and most interesting things our writers could cover. Best and most interesting, of course, are extremely relative terms, and faced with a barrage of music festivals, theater events, dance extravaganzas, film series, and so, so many gallery shows...I quailed at the task of sorting it all out.

In the end, I stuck with what I know. Confronted with a choice between a small exhibit of ink-brush paintings and a show at the San Francisco MOMA, I chose the MOMA. Unable to differentiate one indie DJ from another, I opted for the Stanford Jazz Festival. I took a couple of risks. Ignoring my boss's one warning - 'Don't give me anything nerdy' - I included a production of 'Oliver!' at a local outdoor amphitheater as well as an exhibition of original artwork from the Green Lantern comic books. But for the most part, I clung to the big venues I trust.

What I found most difficult was allowing shows onto my list that I wouldn't go see myself. I have fairly clear personal taste. One look at the poster art of any movie usually tells me all I need to know about whether I'll see it in theaters, wait for the DVD, or skip it altogether. But what good is knowing what you like when you're trying to decide what will interest and amuse someone else? And not just someone you know - I was trying to gauge first what my boss would like to put on the website, secondly what the writers would like to write about, and thirdly what readers would like to read about and possibly go see.

I turned in my list, and sure enough, the immediate feedback was to get more variety, more quirky, small venues, and more things that no one else has heard about yet. Basically, I need to learn to burrow into the deeper veins of the internet arts network and suss out more than an average Bay Area arts patron like me would be likely to find on their own.

But my boss loved the idea of the Green Lantern exhibit. Some may try to deny it, but nerdier is always better.

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