Lately my art-related thoughts have started to dwell on some pessimistic observations of how we value art education here in the US of A. I observe talented and dedicated friends/mentors struggle to keep art programs alive in our schools, only to, more often than not, be faced with apathetic administrations and lack of resources and marketing. In high school, it was pretty obvious that the art program wasn’t seen as an essential part of the curriculum. Art class is just where kids go to fingerpaint or whatever, right? That’s the impression that I left with, and it’s actually quite frightening, having some serious ramifications to the quality of our culture.
For instance, I think that it’s ridiculous that someone could basically go through all tiers of our education system, acquiring a degree (or degrees), and therefore be considered an educated person, while not knowing a Monet from a Manet.
I dunno, brah, they look the same to me.
So many complete their education with the whole “art” thing still eluding them. A comparable oversight would be someone whose literary education stopped at Hop on Pop. We’re taught how to analyze fine works of literature in school- not only that, but how to appreciate them. How to notice subtleties in mood, recognize thematic elements, and literary devices. If your favorite book is above the elementary school reading level, then the only reason you can appreciate that work is because you were taught how to do so. I’m sure if your education on literature had stopped at Dr. Seuss, then you hearing your friends fawn over the latest great American novel would sound alienating and embarrassing to you. You’d probably become defensive and insecure, calling those people pretentious or claim that they couldn’t earnestly enjoy such a, to you, esoteric work. Sound familiar? this is how most people view the art world. Because they were abandoned in the Dr. Seuss level of Art understanding. And that needs to stop.
When people aren’t educated on how to look at artworks critically, something really crazy also happens: our culture becomes really stale. If one never looks at, say, the history of painting, or writing, or music, or whatever, as a discipline, then there’s the tendency to start treading really familiar ground, all while asserting a false sense of originality. As a result, we start noticing that all the popular songs sound the same. Sub-par Artwork that doesn’t really further the discipline sells like crazy among uneducated buyers. And, for the vastly uneducated public, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of bad, unoriginal creative works clogging up the channels and justifying their sense that art really is a load of unapproachable BS.
So, please, donate to your local arts programs/centers. Volunteer to teach workshops if you can. Don’t vote for legislation that slashes through art programs. We all get the culture we deserve, and if we continue to treat art programs in our education system as disposable, be ready to be completely underwhelmed, or even annoyed, by any future music you listen to, movies you see, buildings you live in, or 2-d surfaces you look at.