Art can be a wonderful, collective experience, writes Philip Kennicott. But social distancing has returned us to the old fashioned idea of the power of private contemplation and solitary engagement.

It could be a long time before we enjoy the arts as a form of social bonding once again. For now, there are no intermissions because there are no concerts, no eavesdropping in the galleries because the museums are all closed, no flirtations across the table because the clubs and cabarets are shuttered. The substitutes for the collective experience of art – the streaming concerts, virtual gallery tours and Zoom improv sessions – are a stopgap, but does anyone want them to become an actual replacement for experiencing art in the company of others?

Yet if we are cut off from experiencing art with others, we are perfectly placed to consider an old and out of fashion idea: the power of private contemplation and solitary engagement. The silence in the room as you read a poem or look at a print, or prepare to listen to a piece of music, isn’t absence. It is the presence of your undivided attention.

Since the culture wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the arts have largely rebranded themselves as an essential public good. Arts leaders stress things like connection and engagement, promoting a collective experience, ideally one that can be monetised. New museum buildings are constructed around restaurants, cafes and event spaces. Art forms, such as poetry, which earlier generations may have thought of as a solitary communion, have been reinvented (or returned) to social spectacles, like poetry slams….

Read Full Article HERE via The Independent.