As I was waiting to board a recent flight, a group of young people in front of me were singing. Harmonising competently. Not too loudly, but for a moment it was quite beautiful. I’ve been in situations with colleagues where we’ve done some communal singing. Mostly bad and not entirely sober. But it has been lovely to sing along with others.
I reckon that many people enjoy expressing themselves artistically, but don’t do it all that often. They also want to connect with art: the consumption of the art of others is another way that we satisfy this internal need to express ourselves. Whether it’s music, theatre or art galleries, normal people are interested in engaging, but often experience frustration because often they can’t connect. The gap between where they are and the sort of experiences offered to them is simply too large.
So we have this gulf between popular culture, which is often trivial and unsatisfying (and is typically owned and delivered by large corporations), and highbrow art experiences. Relatively few cross over from one to the other, and the middle ground just isn’t there. And popular culture often is not participatory: it’s something that is delivered to us in easily digestible form.
There’s a need for something else. Art where we can connect and participate, without being experts or being to operate at the highest level. Is the accessibility problem the result of elitism? Is it that art gatekeepers are experts and are unable or unwilling to reach down far enough to bring people up a level? Or is it that you can’t make art accessible without losing that which makes it worthwhile?
I’d argue that it’s the former. A failure to see from the perspective of others. We are often guilty of this in whatever sphere we operate. We progress, and then we raise the barrier to entry. We readjust to our new level of expertise and normalize this, and then are surprised when no one is listening any longer.
Do we also do this with wine? Are people like me too elitist, writing about esoteric wines out of the reach of normal people? Do we make it too hard for people to get into wine?
I think we do. Those of us who write about wine we need to make more of an effort to be accessible. It’s not that we need to drop our critical faculties and tell people that crappy commercial wine is great. We just need to reach outside our geeky comfort zone and remember what it was like for us when we were first getting into wine. And we need to help people distinguish between good and bad commercial wine.