I’ve been re-learning some history lately, and picking up some new things as well, from my son’s 4th grade homework and studies. Most of it is general information about the Indian tribes that once lived in Georgia, but I’m also taking another look at what he is (and I was) taught.
On around Columbus Day, when he was learning about the explorer, I taught him about the ruthless and murderous villain that Columbus was as well. The villain story is much more interesting and violent, so he shared it with his class. The only surprise for me about this was that no one seemed to believe him, and even his teacher said she wasn’t familiar with that story.
In retrospect, it shouldn’t have surprised me at all, because history lessons aren’t designed for two important things that I’ve come to expect. They aren’t intended to be interesting, or to be accurate.
I don’t mean that many teachers don’t work very hard at making history interesting and accurate. They do, but they do it on their own. As taught, that is not the point of the classes.
History classes are intended to give you the same basic information that a moderately educated person is expected to have. The point is to give a reference, or starting point, for a general discussion. By its nature, that approach is shallow and boring, because it never takes you into the motivations of historical figures.
Most of the world’s great religions contain advice about living in the present, or embracing the “now” in order to live a full and rich life.
Eckart Tolle bases a lot of his secular writings on this, drawing advice instead of inspiration from these sources. The Bhagavad Gita, for example, teaches most everything you need to know about cognitive behavior therapy, and Jesus preached about how to live this life, not the next, even describing how the meek truly understand how to embrace this earth.
Of course that’s usually ignored in favor of focusing on texts, then “discovered” and called “spiritual,” when in fact it’s just listening to what some fairly thoughtful people were saying in the first place.
We end up with people telling us they’re spiritual and not religious. I know what they mean—they are looking for a full life, not a strict one—but it’s a nonsensical statement. They’re often following religious advice but simply avoiding the creeds that have been added for hundreds of years in order to keep groups of people in control.
To me they’re religious, just not conformists.
In today’s strained environment for arts support, the funding wonderland of Norway can incite jealousy. Yes, Norway is an oil-rich country; it also allots a respectable percentage of its oil wealth to pioneering art, making it a model for exactly what well-spent money for the arts can engender.
Especially in jazz. Public support has helped the country’s improvised-music scene expand from a handful of artists in the late ’60s to a thriving network of recording, performing and educational opportunities today. It’s not perfect, of course; I’ll address some chinks in Norway’s funding armor. But the country’s improvised music flourishes largely on public support."
I’ve never understood why jazz and classical music are consider fine art, ripe for public funding, while more contemporary expressions are generally not. I’ve thought of this as an American phenomenon in the past, but it isn’t.
Now that shows I recall seeing in the early 1990’s (that video was just a part of the performance, fyi) are being blandly and drudgingly imitated by some of today’s video artists, I wonder if this is simply a result of limited thinking. Unfamiliarity with a genre, especially a rapidly-changing one, leads critics and art communities to dismiss creative and exciting work until it can be categorized and anointed as officially “art.”
[I should add that I would frankly greatly prefer to hear Norwegian jazz than the thriving Norwegian black metal. While the immaturity of most black metal disqualify it from having an “art” label, its relentless literalism and pedantry could potentially overcome that. Perhaps, as a positive outcome, an embrace from the art world could cause its murderous nationalists to flee the popular music and culture scene.]
Still, it is interesting to see an imported genre of American music evolve as official “art” in another country. I can’t help but wonder how or whether the embrace of official art culture can lead, there as here in the US, to innovation instead of embalming.
The extremely high-priced market for living artists exists only because of a general lack of appreciation of art.
That sounds a bit counterintuitive at first. Surely people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a work because they love it, because it speaks to them. But even a brief thought about that statement reveals how ludicrous it is.
Art is personal. Its beauty and its meaning exists for the artist and exists in a different way entirely for a viewer. Viewers are all as different as the artists themselves. An emotional collector buys what they love, if they can be moved by it, and should not need to told by gatekeepers what they are meant to cherish. It simply isn’t logical that we would all hunger for the same things, or find the same limited amount of people to be producing exactly what we want in our lives.
Collectors that buy for investments, banking on increased values, exist in an isolated self-serving side market of their own making, rotating products between themselves & among blue-chip galleries & museums. The love of meaning, craft, beauty & personal emotion is very different here, sterilized and held apart.
True, some artwork will inevitably rise to the top, in its quality & expressiveness, and this is a wonderful thing. Its creators should be recognized. But if a majority of buyers had enough confidence in their own tastes, enough trust in their own emotions, the amount of this appreciated artwork would increase. The number of well-paid artists would be greater and the number of ridiculously-highly-paid would plummet.
This holds similarly true for music and other jackpot professions where most of the extremely talented will labor in relative obscurity and low income while a select few dominate. Again, the public is told what they should love, because the public wants to be told.
Have you ever watched an artist’s booth or small gallery as people consider buying? We don’t trust ourselves and we want our peers to look up to and respect our tastes. And this is quickly clear.
People will stare at a $30 work for ages, come back and look again, wondering how it will make them look. “I love it,” they’ll say, but they’ll want to be sure they live the rest as well. “What if this isn’t good art? What if other work is bad and I don’t like it?”
It doesn’t matter—I want to say, just take it home. You know you’ll spend more than that on a decorative piece from Ikea without much thought at all. Trust your own taste; you can always put it away or move it to a different wall later. You even spent more on iTunes this morning (after checking the reviews for approval of course.)
Look around you. There are most likely talented people nearby, singing & playing in pubs, painting, making pottery. Become a fan, a collector, a supporter, a friend. Don’t wait for approval, just embrace what you discover that you love. Revel in their successes and encourage them in their struggles. Our world will be more beautiful & diverse for your efforts.
There is enough art—real, personal, meaningful art—for everyone.
I wrote about this at the Good Men Project awhile back—how I reap the rewards of prejudice and had needed to consciously make myself aware of this. It was written as a single essay on how being white & male gives me benefits in both regards, and because things still aren’t easy men like me need to work at being conscious of it.
At their request I rewrote it into two essays: one on gender, one on race. What I found interesting was the much stronger negative reaction to the first essay posted, the gender argument. Perhaps my points weren’t made as well in that one, or maybe weren’t in the other, I’m not sure. But I clearly touched a nerve and became much more aware of the resentments of “men’s rights” advocates than I had been before.
I’m not used to writing for an audience that large, so the response surprised me a bit (even though I’ve gotten a decent number of insults on this tumblr from a post about guns). Honestly, when my second essay—the one on race—was posted, I expected the same level of dialogue but it never came. I’m not sure if I was relieved or disappointed. I still had a few call me names in the comment section, but I think most got the gist of it.
Maybe it’s a sign that we’re more aware of this racial bias already, or maybe white men simply tune it out. I do wonder which, if either is true.