That phrase, “a scene developed,” is a modern usage of the word “scene” that hasn’t been handled well by the dictionaries, even the online ones, as far as I can tell. The American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.) comes as close as most, which is pretty bad: “A sphere of activity: observers of the political scene.” A OneLook search brought this: “a particular interest or activity, and the people and places that are involved in it” (MacMillan), which is slightly better, as is wiktionary’s “A social environment consisting of a large informal, vague group of people with a uniting interest; their sphere of activity.”
But none of these definitions is adequate for the Ingram quote above. They are too passive, as if “activity” just happens and the “scene” is the “sphere” that denotes the activity’s boundaries. Nothing is said of cause and effect, nothing is said about value.
This new usage of “scene” needs a more extended definition, so here’s mine:
What is a “critical number”? However many it takes to make a scene. It probably depends on how creative each is, and maybe their manner of interacting.
“Creative,” by the way, can apply to any exercise of skill, usually intellectual, but not always artistic. There are philosophical scenes. There are scenes where theoretical physicists inspire each other’s work. Programmers at Google seem to have a kind of scene going that’s igniting some exciting web activity. I want to exclude, however, phrases like “political scene” and “drug scene” from this definition. Those really do seem to be mere “spheres of activity.” Let’s reserve our definition of “scene” for the spark struck between creative minds.
The size of the geographic community in which the creative people live does not seem important for a “scene” to develop. Concord, Massachusetts, by anyone’s standards, had a hot literary scene in the middle 1800s. Concord even today is only about 17,000 people (wikipedia) and in Emerson’s day it was barely over 2,000 (Traditions and Reminiscences of Concord, Massachusetts, 1779-1878 by Edward Jarvis). And yet:
In fact a large urban setting may be an obstacle. This same wikipedia article cites a review of an interesting-sounding history of the Concord literary scene called American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever. The comparison to Bloomsbury is significant: another community-based literary “scene,” though quite a different setting. Virginia Woolf and other intellectuals isolated in a toney London neighborhood achieved a scene of their own.
In the modern global culture, the size of the geographical community is probably irrelevant; in some cases there may be no geographic center. But a small group of people meeting regularly over their artistic endeavors can create a scene nevertheless. They don’t need the globe, though they benefit from outside influences. They don’t even need a metropolis. In fact they don’t need Concord. All they need is communication with each other, seriousness about the importance of their work, and the time to do it.
Apparently socioeconomic class isn’t a barrier either. Consider the music scene that developed in the Mississippi Delta country among some of the most poverty-ridden, oppressed people in America. It gave us bottleneck blues and Robert Johnson, among other things. But they had a scene going. That scene is portrayed well in the book and movie The Color Purple by Alice Walker, in the juke-joint passages.
The idea that “scenes” just “develop” is only partly true. Scenes are surprising bursts of activity that give us new genres, artists, and creations, usually startling even the artists themselves. Still, a scene develops only where artists are working together. It’s happening right now, in your head and mine.