Tuesday, November 13, 2007

tired of shakespeare, pt. 2

So I asked the 12-year-old girl Chairman Gioia's question: How many living artists can you name? She thought for about 3 seconds and said: "There's too many to count!" Her friends, singers and songwriters she likes, teachers who are creative. "When it comes down to it, pretty much everybody I know is an artist in some way." Chairman Gioia: zero. 7th grader: everybody. Awesome.

Monday, November 12, 2007

tired of shakespeare

The Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts recently said that if you polled college students asking them how many of today's artists they could name, the answer would be zero. I think this statement actually says more about the limitations of our artistic inclusivity than it does about the limits of college students' knowledge. While such a poll may not turn up the names of Robert Pinsky or Robert Rauchenberg, it will likely include a long list of songwriters, performance artists, filmakers, graphic novelists, designers, hip-hop choreographers, etc. And even more exciting is that many of young people's favorite artists will be their friends --- photographers, printmakers, musicians and poets in their community, whether a local or a virtual community. And thanks to iTunes and MySpace, there are entire new marketplaces and opportunities for audience-building available to artists today that are broad-reaching and accessible. Rather than assuming that college students' lack of knowledge or interest in Thornton Wilder and Aaron Copland is an indicator that the arts are not visible in their lives, I think there is great evidence that the arts are often so integrated into their lives as to be invisible.

When a collector goes to a galley and buys a $1000 painting to support one artist, we call them a patron of the arts. When a college student spends $1000 on iTunes to buy 1000 songs by 1000 artists, we call them a consumer. Is the difference really in an understanding of art, or is the difference in language and perception?

If we continue to insist that the traditional canon of artists and art forms is the foundation of enlightenment, we will lose young people and miss the opportunity to share the value of creative expression, not to mention the chance to learn from them what it is they value in the multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural, informal art forms they support. The responsibility lies with educators and institutions to expand our definition of artists and the arts, and provide ways for young people to find relevance and resonance through the artistic expressions they are already accessing. Like Cake's album art? You'll love Andy Warhol. PJ Harvey fan? Try Anne Sexton. The distance is closer than we think...