The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One Life after the coronavirus will be very different.
This optimism has all always made me sure that the art world could, and would, survive anything. But last week, that optimism started to die. Even an art-lover lifer like me has to admit much of the art world infrastructure feels like it’s already in the balance. Some of it may be gone even now. In three months, or six months, or — God forbid — 12 or 18 (there has never been a vaccine for a coronavirus)? There will be galleries on the other side of this chasm, and museums, and artists making work, of course. But I worry that such a sundering will only exacerbate the inequalities that more and more dominate this universe, with megagalleries and art stars surviving and the gap between them and everyone else only widening, rendering the scrappier artists and galleries something close to invisible.--Jerry Saltz
Behind the scenes within our data communities we are being cautioned--rightfully so I might add. For once, data is plentiful and mostly ready for primetime. Professionals with the skills to source and clean data for analysis are left behind as data are cast into the miasma for interpretation.
Epidemiology has a unique vocabulary and science to explain how we talk about what is known and what is yet to be discovered. My college text book, Epidemiology for Public Health Practice, defines epidemiology as the following, "a discipline that describes, quantifies, and postulates causal mechanisms for health phenomena in populations."
A later version (5th edition) says the following, "Epidemiology is concerned with the occurrence, distribution, and determinants of "health-related states or events" (e.g., health and diseases,, morbidity, injuries, disability, and mortality in populations). Epidemiologic studies are applied to the control of health problems in populations. The key aspects of this definition are determinants, distribution, population, and health phenomena (e.g., morbidity and mortality)."
I don't know about you but the data we are viewing is often not comparable (confirmed cases vs. actual cases, number of deaths vs. case fatality rates) and most importantly we have no best guess for denominators when testing is sporadic and inconsistent. Limited tests meant subjective determinations of who gets tested. We have already seen the distortion as more data is collected.
What we need are less graphics showing the world is on fire and more data collection from asymptomatic members of the population to measure how the virus moves across the entire population. Less data on race and more on structural determinants that underly data collection efforts. It is sad but easy to count mortality rates but we are failing on morbidity attributed to this novel virus.
There are a few sounding the alarm to be better stewards of data and to yell questions through the horror we are experiencing. I leave the data collection to them and look to those of us continuing our data centric work through it all to spot the outliers and begin looking for the tell-tale signs of wider data.
Over the last decade or so, the art world in peril has seemed to lose the ability to adapt. Or, rather, it now seems able to adapt only in one way, no matter the circumstances: by growing larger and busier. Expansion and more were the answers to everything.
The bolded text in the quote above is my own. Substitute data for art--"it’s about eccentricity, risk, resistance, and adaptation." Adaptation based on accumulation and analyses of new information.
I bristled listening to NPR asking for data siloed by race. What are we measuring? If you want to examine biology then examine biology--not race. If you want to examine social inequalities give them a name--not race.
The heart surrenders everything to the moment. The mind judges and holds back. Ram Dass
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In a world of "evidence-based" medicine I am a bigger fan of practice-based evidence.
Remember the quote by Upton Sinclair...
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”