August 24, 2020
Professor Rebekah Modrak moderated author William Deresiewicz’s talk at the City Club of Cleveland on Wednesday, August 19, 2020. The subject of the talk was Deresiewicz’s new book “The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech,” for which he interviewed more than 140 artists to understand the modern struggles of creators in this digital era, and how exploitation and instant gratification have changed our perceptions of art.
His presentation, the ensuing conversation, and the Q&A considered societal shifts in perceptions of artists and creators as intellectuals, professionals, and at times as artisans, asked — in the Digital Age —who truly gets to claim the title of “artist?” How do we ensure that the artists who dedicate years to their expertise and work are able to be sustained?
William Deresiewicz is an award-winning essayist and critic, and the best-selling author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. Bill has published more than 250 essays and reviews. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Harper’s, The American Scholar, and many other publications.
Modrak, one of the artists interviewed for the book, has a professional interest in relationships between institutions, creative practice, branding, and class displacement. Her writing has considered such “partnerships” as the one between Shinola and the College for Creative Studies and the ethics and effects of this collaboration on design, education, and gentrification. Her research questions the complicity of artists and designers in the consumption, production, and exhibition of “bougie crap,” and emphasizes the need for artists to attend to cultural critique, especially within their own community.
The City Club of Cleveland is one of the nation’s great free speech forums. A product of the Progressive Era, it was founded in 1912 and is one of the nation’s oldest continuous independent free speech forums, renowned for our tradition of debate and discussion. For more than a hundred years, speakers—from sitting presidents to community activists—have answered unfiltered, unrehearsed questions directly from the audience.