By Anna Sadovskaya, Daily Fine Arts Columnist
Published September 10, 2013
For the first 14 years of my life, I held hands with the finer arts; instead of rocking out at a Linkin Park concert, I’d be sitting front row at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. My weekends were spent pondering life and the pursuit of happiness while shuffling through an exhibit. I was becoming “cultured,” my mother would remind me.
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It was important to know the classics in my family: My grandmother and I studied Russian literature, my mother took us all to as many museums as possible and my brother and I had to soak it up. I didn’t know anything else. I looked at my grandmother, wise and impressive, and wanted to know what she knew. She has spent her life reading every book, every play, every memoir. She’s traveled around the world, been to innumerable art shows, knows every nook and corner of any arts museum. She’s cultured — smart.
But what did that mean? My appreciation of current culture consisted of the Top-40 playlist and bad MTV shows. I couldn’t tell the difference between hip hop and rap. I was useless when it came to Oscar predictions. It wasn’t out of distaste; it was out of ignorance. I had grown up in an old-world bubble, out of tune with current interests.
I wasn’t completely out of it. I liked going to the movies; I liked hanging out and listening to music with friends — but I held this imaginary belief that the only way to expand your artistic horizons was to spend a day studying Pasternak paintings. It took a while for me to realize culture as the understanding and appreciation of all art.
“Nothing produced today can rival the deep-rooted history of classic culture,” my grandmother said. And for someone that only speaks the fine-art language, maybe that holds true — but time doesn’t stop; history continued on after pop culture sprang up. The new Daft Punk album is no Mozart, but that could be said in reverse: Mozart is no Daft Punk.
Art is too often regarded as a competition — everyone is constantly trying to define what’s “the best” in a genre, decade, country. Everyone is interested in finding their niche and advertising it as “the best.” My upbringing made me think fine arts were superior, and all others were second-rate. It’s no different than someone raised on classic rock staying firmly in the genre and not branching out.
Too many people turn away from museums and classical concerts due to the snob aspect. It’s deemed elitist and stuffy. You don’t know Manet’s Olympia? You haven’t heard of Escher’s prints? There’s no room for inquiry. It’s not as easy as popping a CD in on a long drive and really listening to a new artist, really understanding and enjoying the experience. It’s too removed, too stigmatized, etc.
To be cultured is to be aware of all forms of art. And as obtuse as that sounds, it’s not about enjoying everything, it’s about respecting the time and effort put in by artists. It’s not about superiority, rather it focuses on inquiry and interest.
Concert halls were the nightclubs of my grandmother’s youth. The culture of the 1930s and ’40s was involved with fine arts in the same way our generation hypes up music festivals and covets new releases. My grandmother grew up reveling at the masters of earlier centuries, while today, we wait with bated breath for novelty. It’s the originality that keeps arts going, but it’s also the past that allows a foundation for future artists.
It’s impossible to grasp the full scope of all the arts, but failing to venture out of a predisposed comfort zone keeps innovation and discussion to a minimum. If cultural relevance didn’t expire at the emergence of post-apocalyptic modern art, there’s plenty of room for appreciating the new Madonna album while strumming the chords for “Barbarian” by August Burns Red.