It’s a problem that all columnists face when deadline nears — what the hell am I going to write about this time? This conundrum hit me like a train two nights ago when I sat down to compose my last fine arts column having no idea what I wanted to say as my “last hurrah.” As I’ve already written over 10,000 words on the topic of fine arts since the beginning of the school year, I believed I had sufficiently exhausted my soapbox.
Lost, panicked and scrambling for an idea, I turned to my boyfriend (who has read each of my columns semi-voluntarily). He suggested I write about “Indiana Jones,” as we had just settled on “The Last Crusade” as our movie-night pick for that evening. My first reaction was sighing and thinking, “Thanks, but that’s not fine arts. I can’t write about it.”
But then it hit me — “Indiana Jones” can be discussed in terms of fine arts. Because, duh, Indiana and his father are crazy-awesome (if quite unrealistic) archaeologists who deal with ancient objects of fine art on, what seems, a daily basis. This is, admittedly, only a part of the archaeology spectrum — not every find includes ancient objects of fine art. But, I mean, the Holy Grail? That item would definitely be considered an art object of high craftsmanship and value, perfect for the collection of the University’s own Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. So why was my gut reaction so negative? Why did I immediately dismiss one of my favorite movies as viable fodder for my column?
It’s because of the connotations associated with fine arts. Fine arts. The term reeks of pretentiousness. It screams exclusivity. It alienates and, in the end, fluffs up a confusing cloud of obscurity around interests that are very near and dear to my heart. I couldn’t even consider a major motion picture about archaeology on the same level as the fine arts. That’s how, unfortunately, pervasive this connotation is.
True — some things under the fine arts umbrella are, inherently, highfalutin. Not everyone appreciates sopranos screaming in Italian or classical music that goes on and on for forever. I certainly can’t appreciate it, even though I grew up with opera seemingly constantly in the house (thanks for that Mom) and took classical piano lessons for 12 years.
But that doesn’t mean the fine arts, as a whole, have to be considered pretentious. Within film, there are blockbuster action movies and super avant-garde films. Within music, there are pop albums and indie lo-fi self-releases. There are elements of fine arts incorporated into popular entertainment and elements that only exist in classical concert halls. “Film” and “music” don’t have monolithic identities — gradation is inherent in the terms. The category of fine arts deserves that same distinction.
The fine arts really do pervade our everyday life. They appear in films like “Indiana Jones,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” — remember, Ethel is an archaeologist — and even “Julie & Julia,” as Julie’s husband in an editor for Archaeology magazine, which is a real magazine in real life that I subscribe to. No big deal.
And there’s more. Every time you choose to study in the Law Library or the Graduate Library Reference Room and notice how “pretty” it is, you’re appreciating classical architecture and the decorative arts, both fine arts. Every time you watch “America’s Next Top Model” or “Project Runway,” you’re being inspired by the world of high fashion, which is also a fine art. Every time you pass by the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art and peer into the window at the weird things in the Project Gallery or sit in the UMMA Cafe to work on assignments, you’re interacting with visual art, an undeniable fine art. And every time you laugh out loud while watching StarKid’s “A Very Potter Musical” or belt along with the soundtrack for “Wicked,” you’re being entertained by the magic of theater, yet another fine art.
I love the theater. I love architecture. I love museums. I love literature. Fashion … is OK. My guess is that most people who shy away from events labeled as “fine arts” avoid them precisely because of the connotations that come with the label, without considering that they, like me, probably love a lot of things that are fine arts. The fine arts are not just something for stuffy old people who smell weird — they’re for everyone.
So, if you’re devastated because you will no longer be able to get a biweekly perspective on fine arts from yours truly, never fear! You can get your fine arts fix in so many different ways. One of my favorite outlets is ArtDaily.org, the self-proclaimed “first art newspaper on the net.” Through ArtDaily, I receive daily e-mails featuring 20 topical art-world stories, ranging from gallery openings to what sold for how much at what auction to news about specific artists and museum professionals. It’s a great (did I mention free?) way to stay in touch with the fine arts world, no hassle.
But for those who may find ArtDaily a little to close to the pretentious end of the fine arts spectrum, all you have to do is look around. I’m sure you’ll find the fine arts.