Art Appreciation?

The existence of the art/music appreciation course has always troubled me.  This search for understanding meaning in art seems to show a crisis of some sort.  People are separated from the “higher” arts.  How has art become something people can not reach?  Is it because we have separated these arts from every day life? Has it become just a personal thing that we indulge in when we feel like it? Why isn’t art and music history more integrated into our other history courses?  If people could learn how culture, human nature and the arts all work together, would we need art appreciation courses?  Ultimately, the arts need to become a part of who we are and not be a separate indulgence we partake in occasionally. Art is not a luxury, as we seem to have made it. It is vital to life, just as water is an essential life-giving refreshment to our body. So how do we bridge this gap? 

It’s a complex problem and I don’t think there is a simple solution. 

While in NYC a few months ago, I observed something that hit me deeply.  I went to both the MET and MoMA and had a great time experiencing the works of art.  However, I began to notice something that was rather common: people taking pictures of the more well-known pieces and then walking away instead of engaging with them.  Is that what these works have become?  A piece of history that has no relevance today and has no power to help transform a person’s mind or affections?  Just an earthly good to try to hold on to by gaining a photo of it?  In a place filled with so much art and so many people, I never noticed such a separation between art and human beings. 

What I love about music is that you cannot simply take a picture of it. You are almost forced to engage with it.  Yet, it is still possible to turn off your mind while sitting in the audience.  And this makes me wonder: if people were not, in a sense, forced to sit through a piece of music, but could instead take a photo of it- would they choose to take the picture and leave?  Judging by the yawns I often see in the faces of audience members, I am guessing many would.

So, is this a problem that needs our attention?  This is a common subject brought up in composition studio classes and on blogs, so we must be searching for an answer.  I don’t think this is a problem only located in the arts, but it exists in all of culture. A dehumanization has taken place and for this reason, there is no easy solution.  Many artists seem to have let art become a religion of sorts.  Perhaps this is because they feel the need to justify their existence and craft. It shouldn’t be this way.  It is good that we have art, music and poetry. We don’t need to place it on a pedestal to try to convince everyone else.  Instead, we need to climb down the ladder and reach people where they are. Educate them on how art has progressed and where it is now. Help them see the relationship between the arts and this world, and themselves.