The purveyors of popular culture have done a spectacular job creating a version of American youth deeply connected with “the arts”; children and teenagers spend billions of dollars each year on films and music.
Mostly, however, this connection with things “artistic” is purely an economic construct. Rather than an imaginative exploration of a created universe, most of the consumption of cultural products by young people in the industrialized world is the result of exhaustive market research and targeted content packaging. The mechanism is a brilliantly conceived convergence of a relatively affluent demographic (kids) with an ever-evolving cornucopia of designer products—boy bands, rap stars, action films, gadgets to play the songs, feature-rich smart phones, and even clothing and personal-care items—that are essentially fungible commodities whose purpose is to separate customers from their cash. Rather than a free market, this convergence can be seen as a rigorous development of data-driven merchandising that can entrap less-than-independent-minded young people in a consumer niche from which there is no escape—nor even a felt need to do so. The niche becomes a comfort zone in which a never-ending cascade of what an earlier generation called “mental pabulum” ensures that the consumer is never discomfited by intellectual challenge or even by much in the way of variety—the latest hit or must-have product is simply a pricey reiteration of the last.
While this trend may drive a thriving economy, it also provides a wall of cultural static that effectively obscures both a whole other world of non-consumer-driven arts production and also the creative potential of each individual. Where there is non-stop hip hop there is little need for the average child to sing tunes of her own devising, and young people in the United States make up a tiny proportion of fine-arts consumers or even aficionados.
The suggestions in THE ARTS AND CREATIVE EXPRESSION category are designed to develop the child’s understanding of and appreciation for artistic expression, both as something that might do on one’s own but also as a broadening context that includes media and forms beyond the familiar.
IDEA #2. Buy (or go to a library) and read from cover to cover a magazine about the arts. Try Downbeat, Art in America, Dance, American Theatre, Aperture—there are many, many more. Find an artist or performer whose work interests you, and then look for more of her or his work in a gallery, in performance, or on the Internet.
If one is not fortunate enough to live in a community with a “vibrant arts scene,” it might be difficult to imagine the extraordinary quantity and variety of output from the global creative community. The many arts magazines currently published not only offer a taste of what is available but also serious inspiration to young people who might have imaginative yens of their own. Whether the art form be music, painting, dance, or theater, magazines can give the reader a sense of who is creating what, how the critics feel about it, and how the complex marketplace for the fine and imaginative arts works. Many magazines also carry regular “how-to” features that illuminate particular techniques, and interviews and biographical articles offer insight into the minds of a range of artists.
In itself, a magazine probably will not inspire the next David Hockney, Richard Avedon, or Twyla Tharp, but it will at least serve as an introduction to the nature of the creative life and contemporary art. A hard reality in our society is that new audiences for art (and this includes non-blockbuster cinema and music that doesn’t make the Top 40) are not being well trained except by happenstance; relatively few young people are even aware that there is an arts scene, and fewer still have even the faintest idea of how to access it in search of interesting things to look at and experience. Publications make a great entrée into the world of the arts, and furthermore they are themselves often beautiful things to look upon.