In our current education system at the secondary and post-secondary level, we have commoditized the courses we take. We treat them as investments in our career, and approach our choices from a one-dimensional viewpoint. We tend to choose courses that have proven merit with regards to obtaining a worthwhile career, such as business and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) group of courses, and in turn, we often shun those who choose courses that are more heavily based in the arts.
When I was in first year, my program was known as Biological & Medical Sciences, often shortened to BioMed, and the general mindset among those in this program was that all other students were inferior because they weren’t as intelligent or they weren’t destined for career greatness like we all were. Engineers weren’t included in this sweeping generalization because they were all dyed purple and freaked everyone else out. As I grew older, I soon realized that this was a terribly myopic view of the world, and that by embracing the mindset that the arts were useless and unnecessary, I severely limited my potential in terms of intellectual and personal growth.
The recent stigma of being “basic” that is often attached to boring, average people is in line with a lot of what I have spoken of in past articles. I am a passionate advocate for embracing change, being different, and striving to improve and try new things; essentially, the antithesis of all things basic. What I have found is that what a lot of basic people are lacking is a working knowledge of, or passion for, the arts. This effect stems from our belief that art education is “pointless”, because too often we treat education as an occupation, not a vocation.
Artsy people are often seen as social outcasts, left to fraternize with each other -often against the mainstream- while that same mainstream either ignores or ridicules the odd ways of the art crowd. Many career-driven youth often abstain from artistic endeavours because they are a waste of time or they simply think that they lack the ability to do so. And just to be clear: going to a music festival like Coachella or Osheaga doesn’t really count, since these festivals are full of people who are only there because music festivals just happen to be experiencing resurgence, and are now a popular option to have a great time at. Yes, there are swathes of true fans that are there for the music, but they are mixed in with a bunch of bindi wearing basics. What this is causing, though, is a dilution of the artistic merit that these festivals stood for in the first place.
When I talk about artistic endeavours, I’m talking about learning an instrument on your own time and terms, learning about various elements of film to appreciate your favourite movies on a whole new level, following fashion shows of your favourite designer, or taking up a form of visual art. The fact that your parents forced you to take piano lessons as a kid might not count; it all depends if that instilled a passion for music within you, or you merely found it to be a chore that your parents forced upon you.
In his 2004 book, Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton describes art as one of the cures for the manic depression that the Western World is experiencing as a result of our constant battles for status and personal wealth. What is unique about art is that it places everyone on an equal level. Spectators at a local band’s show at a dive bar are unified by the music and the experience; not what their salary is or what clothes they’re wearing. Even the materialistic art, fashion, is not immune to this effect. If you have an eye for colour, fit, and fabric choice, you can assemble an outfit that looks amazing for $50 as easily as you could for $5000. Despite what the average person may think, the price tag on your clothes doesn’t make them look better; a working knowledge of the art that is fashion does. Art is very much a social and cultural equalizer: it’s not a coincidence that most artists also happen to be very politically opined to the left side of spectrum. Even in a very conservative, pro-capitalist mindset, art is a necessary thing that helps provide relief from the stresses of monetary gain and competition.
Despite the benefits of learning and experiencing art, elementary and high school curricula in North America have largely abstained from promoting art, and have instead relegated it to cutbacks. Fundamental English and math skills are critical for a functional adult life in North America, but a balanced education is far more critical in terms of happiness and personal growth. Unfortunately, only so much time exists in a day, and fundamental subjects take priority, as they should. This is why it is largely the responsibility of parents to instil a passion or at least a basic introduction to the arts in their children; our educational system simply doesn’t have the capacity for it in its current state.
Exposure to music, visual art, theatre, film, or other forms of art at home will foster greater creativity, general knowledge, and help children experience a more balanced perspective of the world that school simply can’t provide. Parents are often too concerned with the ends of their child’s education, but not the means. All parents want their children to succeed and be happy, but unfortunately they are often prioritized in this very order because we are often guilty of the incorrect assumption that success and happiness are mutually inclusive.
Differences in gender construct are also to blame for our general aversion to the arts. Boys are pushed towards activities such as sports, and are taught that the most important subjects in school are math and science because those are seen as the two most important for landing a good career. An artistic path is avoided because it is seen as more feminine and career-damning, and no parent wants their young boy to be the victim of ridicule. As gender equality continues to improve, many girls are being pushed in the same direction in order to compete with boys in those same subjects. As a result of this odd duality, the arts are often ignored both in school and outside of it, and we come to the current generation of basic people who have an aversion to the arts, simply because they’re not “important” for future careers or, if you’re a guy, that they’re too feminine. In university, STEM and Business programs continue to grow, while arts faculties are left without funding, are not growing proportionally, or are even shrinking.
What we often forget is that just because someone is interested in the arts, that doesn’t mean that they’re any more feminine than the next person. For example, in centuries past, noblemen were expected to have a working knowledge and appreciation for the arts, and the most famous musicians were in essence, rock stars of their time. A famous example is virtuoso violinist Niccolo Paganini, widely regarded as the greatest to ever pick up instrument. He was just as famous for his musical prowess as he was for his female sexual conquests. Hardly a feminine trait to have.
In recent years, advertisers have tried to make a push to get men to become more feminized in terms of their role as consumers. In the past, men would go to work and women would be in charge of spending the money of the household, and most advertisements were targeted at women. Today, most households have two working parents, and regular spending is more equalized as a result. Marketing agencies have recognized this, and in the past fifteen years, the age of the male consumer began. The male fashion industry has experienced fantastic growth in the past decade as a result, and what was previously seen as a feminine interest is now taking ownership under the male consumer portfolio. The fact is, it’s now becoming a normalized thing for men to care about how they look and what they are wearing, and more men today have taken an interest in fashion, even if it is a casual one.
The problem with this situation is that it is commoditizing the art of fashion, which limits exploration, cultivation of interest, and choice of the male consumer. Despite what you might think, magazines like GQ are not great sources of fashion information and advice. They push one specific construct of how a man should look, and this is largely rooted in which fashion companies are paying to have their advertisements in the magazines. Check through the next issue of GQ that you pick up if you don’t believe me. Their clothing or accessory “recommendations” are almost always from the companies whose ads line their pages.
In effect, this sucks the art out of the clothing, and instead they are merely presented as products for purchase, which is the opposite aim of what art is supposed to help achieve. The most talented and visionary designers whose work is truly artistic in nature are left out of these magazines because they can’t pay the big bills for advertising space. I’ve picked on fashion because it is the genre of art that I am most familiar with, but I am sure that you can find cases like this throughout all other forms of art.
So what can you do to remove that “basic” label if you’ve ever been accused of being that way? Educate yourself. Choose a genre of art that appeals to you, and research it in your spare time. Love watching movies? Try reading up on film and learn some elements and techniques that filmmakers use to produce the wonderful films you enjoy watching. Music your thing? There are tons of great websites and blogs that can get you pointed in the right direction to discovering new bands or learning an instrument, depending what your preference is. I could go on, but you get the point.
This problem of art deficiency all stems from our educational system and how we were raised. Do your best to embrace education in all forms, and not just the avenues that lead to the most money. Your palette will expand, your creativity will improve, and above all else, it will give you new ways in which to find solace and happiness.