Culture Crash | Scott Timberg

Summary of: Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class
By: Scott Timberg


In ‘Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class’, Scott Timberg delves into the decline of the once-thriving creative class and the impact on society. The book highlights how the creative class was supported by the middle class and the infrastructure that emerged from it – museums, universities, bookshops, record stores, and critics. However, as economic uncertainties plagued the 21st-century middle class, art forms like jazz, dance, and poetry have lost much of their audience. Alongside this, the rise of the Internet and the monopolization of culture by a wealthy few have diminished the prospects of the average artist. Timberg’s exploration underlines the essential characteristics of the 20th-century creative class and the necessary steps to revive it.

The Rise and Decline of the Middle Class in Art and Culture

The arts experienced a golden age in the mid-20th century, thanks to a growing middle class. The accessibility of cultural centers and institutions such as museums, universities, and bookshops provided the necessary infrastructure for artists to thrive. However, the 21st century has seen the middle class lose interest in cultural pursuits while internet retailers have taken over the selling of books, music, and movies, making it harder for struggling artists to make a living. As a result, the diversity of the creative class is dwindling with only the wealthy now able to practice and support the arts. The book highlights how a thriving creative class is vital for a healthy society, but this is only possible with a strong middle class audience and infrastructure.

The Evolution of Middlebrow Culture

In the 20th century, the middle class gave rise to a mass audience for works of substance which came to be known as middlebrow culture. Over time, the term has taken on a negative connotation, referring to mainstream and stodgy works. Previously, it showcased art and literature to the masses, with prominent figures like poet Robert Frost, author James Baldwin, and conductor Leonard Bernstein appearing in television programs and jazz pianist Thelonious Monk and choreographer George Balanchine featuring on the cover of Time magazine. The middlebrow culture saw art as a means for self-improvement and attracted a broad audience to works of value.

The Vitality of Cities in Cultivating Artistic Scenes

The middle class culture during the mid-century era thrived because the economic, educational, and media systems in cities made it possible. Struggling artists could afford to live in urban areas that provided supportive institutions, a receptive population, and vibrant cultural hangouts. Poets, writers, musicians, and artists gravitated to cities like Boston, Los Angeles, Austin, and Seattle where they could live inexpensively and share their art with the public. In addition to developing their talent, they could work in bookstores and record shops that served as cultural curators, exposing them to another layer of creativity. Universities opening across the US, the G.I. Bill subsidizing education for veterans, and public television providing access to cultural programming, all helped to promote cultural life by inspiring and supporting artistic movements. However, the dwindling popularity of bookstores and the decline of print journalism threatens the survival of cultural curators while electronic media’s impact on display cultures continues to overwhelm the state of traditional 21st century culture.

The Creative Class’s Struggles

The 21st century has seen the conditions that supported the creative middle class disappear. On the heels of a weakened economy and rise of anti-intellectualism came technological advances that eliminated traditional creative jobs and shopfronts. Record and video shops, bookstores, and newspapers have shuttered, leading to a major shift in urban context and culture. Many creatives now freelance and can’t afford to congregate in cities, resulting in decreased innovation and a loss of arts. While the internet was initially hailed as a force for good for independent artists, it has come with its own challenges. Performing all the tasks that a corporation once did, artists now struggle to earn a decent wage, losing approximately half the income of label-affiliated artists. With the demise of print comes a sharp decrease in jobs, and news outlets have let go 80% of arts critics and reporters since the 20th century’s end. The creative entrepreneurial spirit lives on, but it struggles to thrive in a digital world with uncurated amateur reviews and online algorithms driving cultural recommendations.

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