Most of today's artists, actors, musicians, writers and poets are destined to a difficult journey in life with most of the rewards coming from within. In the rat race that we live in, it often seems that culture has become a luxury rather than an important basic ingredient of life.
For many people, the elements of culture have become something for the rich, or snobbish....things that they might appreciate if only they had adequate time or money. And I do not know that they are wrong. Take the outrageous prices of paperback books, or the even more exorbitant cost of the theatre. Tickets for Broadway plays are so high that die-hard enthusiasts are reduced to purchasing standing room just to be able to afford admission. But do book prices and ticket sales mean that most writers and actors are well compensated for their work? Hardly.
The truth is that for every Andrew Lloyd Webber extravaganza, there are hundreds of other plays that most of the world will never see produced. For every pretty Danielle Steel book jacket, there are hundreds of published books that never make it to your local bookstore, and for every published book there are untold thousands of manuscripts that publishers deem "unmarketable."
The cold truth is that art for its own sake is, sadly, appreciated only by artists. Why is this? Why is it so hard to teach our children to look at a beautiful painting with the same awe they reserve for space-aged special effects? Can't we teach them to be as swept away by a brilliantly written piece of literature as they are by the latest ditty in the top twenty? A single children's video can cost from twenty to thirty dollars or more, and those of us with kids are most likely have a very large library of them (you know who you are). What do you think might happen if we spent that money on books, museums, symphonies? Is it so impossible to tear the kids away from the television? Or at least to change the channel from Nickolodeon to PBS? Or is it simply too late, as we, the parents, are also the first generation to have been raised by the media?
How is it that a child can get to college without ever knowing how to read a poem? How can grown adults say that they have never been to a museum? I imagine these old pleasures must have been replaced along the way by new ones, but I am not sure what they are. These days we aren't interested in anything unless it has lights, bells and whistles. Go see a play? Huh? Does it have special effects? Has technology ruined basic beauty for us all? There is an intense need to get back to basics and relearn the old lesson of Ďless is more.í
But don't get me completely wrong. Technology isn't all bad. Today our kids are on the internet, at home and at school. Thatís where they are and donít expect to see them in the library unless the library is equipped with internet access -- or if they have a school paper due the next day. Sometimes I feel so disheartened at our youth's lack of interest in art that I wish I could somehow booby trap the most popular search engines to bring up "DaVinci" when someone types "DiCaprio", or to pull up the treasures of ancient Egyptian pyramids in response to a search for nude "Tomb Raider" pictures. Deceitful? Of course. But it doesn't mean I sometimes don't think it would be for their own good.
Well, even if my internet scam doesnít pan out, there are other solutions to be had. Ever try practicing what you preach? After all, why should our kids care about culture if you can admit that the last time you stepped foot in a museum was on your fifth grade field trip twenty or thirty years ago? And "little" community art projects wouldnít be so little if half of the community turned out for them. Put Emily Dickinson on the coffee table instead of that hidden 3D image coffee-table book that just gives everyone a headache -- or even better, in place of the TV Guide. And about that little theatre up the road? Those folks work just as hard as the Broadway actors for little or no money. Take a chance and spend your money there. Blink a few times and Godzilla will be out on video anyway.
The only way to raise the culture level in this country is to start from the bottom. Our children, our communities -- these are the things that we have some control over. Maybe we canít afford to take that trip to Rome to see David, but we have talented artists, writers, actors and musicians right in our back yards. If more of us appreciated them, perhaps these people could join society as regularly working people instead of the martyrs that they have become. Let an artist be an artist. Should she really have to scrub toilets to pay the rent while she paints in the attic in the middle of the night? Just think of the ridiculous things we spend money on each day and next time you find yourself reaching for that Beanie Baby, go buy some culture instead.
Christine L. Reed is a mother, poet, artist and freelance writer living in Tranquility, NJ. She is the editor-in-chief of Maelstrom, an art/lit. magazine and the assistant poetry editor for Moondance. Her work has been published internationally in many magazines, anthologies, and web forums. She has work forthcoming in Recursive Angel, Liquid Ohio, MeatWhistle Quarterly, Penny Dreadful Press and others.
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