It’s easy to preach art’s qualifying nature: that we (as a town, a university, a nation) need, on any level, an appreciation for expression. And in the context of a fine arts column, it would be even easier to condense such a sentiment by shouting: “There’s a museum.” “There’s a gallery.” “There’s avant-garde theater.”
Such are the expressions of a select few in few select places – some convenient, some not so much. It’s so easy to pin up a few institutions and organizations as the be-all and end-all of “arts appreciation.”
But this process is too self-contained, too obvious. It errs on the side of simplicity – narrowing the list of cultural/artistic motherships does not make them more accessible. It cultivates an “either I go to the museum and ‘culture’ myself or I don’t” mentality.
Our beloved Museum of Art is undergoing reconstruction – a massive project that will only better the museum as a whole. But we must wait. And the original purpose of this column was to remind you, gentle freshman and aged sixth year, that there are still many places to “experience art.” But the nature of that premise is problematic: You experience art here, but not there. That building has a high aesthetic value. Look at it. A lot.
The fact is that art can be “experienced” anywhere.
It isn’t so pared down. It can’t be. Unfortunately, “arts appreciation” denotes looking at paintings. Looking at sculptures. Going to a foreign movie. Quick answers that transform “arts appreciation” into a misnomer.
We should be appreciating culture, the arts being one part of a great whole.
Which brings us to Ann Arbor. It’s where you are – you have to make the most of it.
Ann Arbor, for all her rich history of hippies and hash and politics, is glossed over by repetition of the mundane. Dry commercial and yuppie chains are accessible anywhere. Dorm rooms are small and cramped, which feels like that Angell Hall classroom which feels like that Dennison classroom and hey, Scorekeepers is like Rick’s is like Ashley’s is like Leopold Brothers. The broad Diag paths don’t feel so roomy around noon on a Tuesday. Fast forward 14 hours and you have a barren landscape.
Seasonal depression is a reality. When you’re deprived of sunlight for too long, your brain, imagination and energy suffer. Is it such a leap to claim that additional stimuli – that which makes us think, to any capacity – is necessary? That a day-to-day, semester-to-semester, graduation-to-graduation routine demands an “appreciation of culture” in order to maintain equilibrium?
Ann Arbor has been around long enough to develop deep nuances and quirks. Expression ranging from the individual to the collective, the aesthetic to the political, is ripe for the experiencing. Some examples are easy: the Law Quadrangle, the Fleetwood Diner, Work (the student art exhibit on State Street), Nickels Arcade. But even these gems run the risk of falling into the humdrum mesh of college life.
How can we as students of any status rise above the superficial? We must adapt.
Adapting to your environment is one of the most important skills you can learn in your life. It’s how horrible jobs become bearable, how dull cities become hotbeds of inspiration. How can we adapt to Ann Arbor? By finding and appreciating nuance: the graffiti-thick alley off of Liberty Street (kitty-corner from the Fleetwood), the brick streets in Kerrytown, the Union’s wind-rippled ivy and the fact that folks smile at you and hold the door open.
But here I go, listing random things that make my Ann Arbor experience as individual as I can manage. Every once in a while I stop and watch our beloved Michael Jackson impersonator near Liberty Street and State Street. If he’s not there, I go into that acoustically perfect alley and walk through its maze of murals and tags.
We owe this ourselves: keeping our heads up, noting the exceptional and the everyday and how the two combine to give us our appreciation of culture. It’s an awareness of your surrounding, not just specific actions (going to and “appreciating” an art exhibit, for example), that complements our personal development. Ann Arbor may not be the best place for you to spend the next years of your life, but you owe it to yourself to make the most of what you can. When you can.
But when 10, 20, 50 years go by and retrospection sets in, what will Ann Arbor mean to you? Classes and beer? Or a time when you developed your mind not just through your classes but with every step in between? Time will tell.
– Klein’s scruff is, like, really deep performance art. E-mail him at email@example.com.