Could those of you who are tired of hearing songs on the radio that all sound the same, please raise your hand?
Could those of you who are tired of seeing books on the shelves of book stores that aren’t well written and are clearly meant to make money off a current fad please raise your hand?
And those of you who are tired of buying ‘ethnic’ polyester clothes made in China, could you raise your hand please?
Could those of you who are tired of going to, say, Europe and buying ‘local’ souvenirs that are made in Taiwan, please raise your hand?
And finally, those of you who are tired of artistic expression being used to make money rather than to express oneself could you please raise both hands?
Ah. I thought so.
I have been doing a little research in the last couple of weeks to see how well received a series of articles on putting the humanity back into arts would be received. I decided to make it a little bit more systematic than asking my friends on MSN and Facebook about their thoughts, so I used a questionnaire that included the questions similar to the ones above. One hundred and twenty people filled it out and the response was overwhelming: almost everyone agreed that the current state of arts in our day-to-day life is pathetic.
Hence the creation of this series, which will lean towards discovering how some artists out there are learning to balance creativity, humanity and the harsh reality of marketing.
How did we get here in the first place? I do not claim to understand the entire scope of the problem; quite the contrary, I have a lot to learn on the subject. After a limited amount of research, here are some of my thoughts on the subject.
In a world of mass production and over-consumption, we often forget about the humble beginnings of, oh, just about everything we own. What machines now take mere hours to make used to take a poor human days to make. We have reached a point where the younger members of our society find the concept of a human making stuff quite quaint and novel.
In some cases, or, dare I say, in most, the use of mass production techniques has had a positive impact by driving down prices of goods, making them available to all rather than only a few (hello IKEA furniture for cash strapped students). However, the lack of moderation in the use of mass production techniques has caused many problems, including the recent tainted milk products in China.
At the same time, the immoderate use of mass production seems to have taken the spirit out of the objects that surround us, making it undeserving of our respect and loyalty. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for us to trash things as new ones come along?
It seems that, like so many other things, humanity has gone from one extreme to another. We used to not have the know-how and were stuck making things by hand, one at a time. Then we started making machines and are trying to mass produce everything, even surgeries. Either extremes aren’t healthy; what we need to do is consciously reach for the middle, a healthy equilibrium that will allow for things to be affordable for all without using techniques that put production quotas before quality and that don’t sterilise the spirit of what surrounds us.
Why start with the arts? Because arts are a good reflection of a society’s priorities. And unfortunately, the priorities portrayed at the moment aren’t that elevated.
But does popular art as currently portrayed in the media really reflect the way that the grassroots think of society and live their lives? Fact of the matter remains that most of us are too busy to go looking for arts; we usually contend ourselves with the arts that reach us. While the internet has been an amazing medium for artists to share their talents, the reality remains that for every good artist that self-advertises, there are 10 really bad ones (if not more). It’s the same thing with music, books or blogs: for every good one you stumble upon (like this one! Yay!), there are many (too many) bad ones out there. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to scour through hundreds and hundreds of sites searching for good music. It’s much easier to put the radio on and tune out songs I don’t like or to check the New York Times Best-Sellers list rather than browse for hours at a local bookstore (no, wait, I actually do put time aside to do that).
The other cause for concern is that not only the art that does get to us is filtered, but their quality and variety is sorely lacking. Now while I don’t need to have a paper towel that is unique for each different mess I mope up, it does get tiring to see the same clothes on everyone or the same cookie-cutter houses in new neighbourhoods being built or relatively tasteless mass-produced food products that require lots of salt or sugar to render ever so slightly palatable, or the same sounding music on ever radio channel, etc. etc.
So here is my personal exploration into the arts: how it got to this point, why it got to this point, what is actually out there, and how (and if) we can get out of it. While I will probably not stumble into a universal solution that will help heal all artistic ailments, I do hope to create a forum for discussion on this subject – which means that you guys should post your comments rather than emailing me :).