Will our best works of art survive for 2500 years?

CM: Well, I don't know what of our culture is going to survive, or if we survive. If you look at the Greek plays, they're really good. And there's just a handful of them. Well, how good would they be if there were 2,500 of them? But that's the future looking back at us. Anything you can think of, there's going to be millions of them. Just the sheer number of things will devalue them. I don't care whether it's art, literature, poetry or drama, whatever. The sheer volume of it will wash it out. I mean, if you had thousands of Greek plays to read, would they be that good? I don't think so. CM: This is just entry level to what's coming. Just the appalling volume of artifacts will erase all meaning that they could ever possibly have. But we probably won't get that far anyway.
There are two questions here: 1) If someone writes the next "Oedipus Rex," will we notice? and 2) Will our generation's best work survive? Unlike Mr. McCarthy, I think the answer to both questions is yes. Popular works of art follow a power law; the best known pieces are viewed exponentially more often than the least popular ones. People want to share and discuss things they've seen, and (some of them) want to try and view the best works of art our culture is producing. Many people have their ears to the ground, filtering out the best material from the noise. The chances of generating 7 excellent works out of 10,000 are much higher than the chances of generating 3 excellent works out of 100; even if we only recognize four of the seven, we're still better off. We'll have more high-quality works of art and continue to do so as the population keeps expanding and the cost of spreading information is low. We tell stories as a way of preserving our culture; the book of Genesis was passed down orally for thousands of years before it was written down by anyone. I don't think that our stories will vanish or get lost in the haze. The works of art we're generating today have a much greater chance of surviving than the works of the Greeks, because they're stored in so many different places. Sure, there's a reputation effect; relatives of famous artists, and people who have already done something good will get their work noticed by a lot of people, even if it's not very good. But the probability you'll tell a friend about some movie you saw increases with its quality. Works of art that withstand the test of time must be very good, and remain relevant even when our lifestyles have changed beyond recognition. We also have crude rating systems; reviews and Top 100 lists will give future historians a place to start. Perhaps we won't recognize "Oedipus Rex" right when it's published, but as long as it's accessible by future generations, someone will find it. I'm encouraged by the rise of some artists long after their career has finished, such as Nick Drake or James Joyce.

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