A Case For The Arts
In a world where making money, having power and gaining status are over-valued, the arts and creative expression are getting a bad reputation.
In our focus on making education profitable there are a lot of people touting the benefits of a STEM education and degrading the arts as having no value since it is highly unlikely you will make a career out of the arts. The argument seems to have moved from, “It will be hard to make a living as an artist” to “the arts are a worthless pursuit.”
In a world where making money, having power and gaining status are valued above all else, the arts, appreciation of the arts and creative expression are getting a bad reputation. There is a lot more to an education than the rate of return on your tuition.
It’s true that your chances of making a stable, plentiful income as a sculptor or even a filmmaker is very low. Those who do make money are in the minority. Even so, there are still very good reasons to learn a craft and find an artistic expression. There are still very good reasons we insist children they attempt an artistic endeavor in school. And I’ll tell you why.
There are two things that a craft can do that very few other things can do for you that you really need to learn. In fact, I’ll say that if you don’t learn these two skills you are lacking and will struggle in finding sustaining success. And these two skills are best learned through art.
I suppose many art forms will do, but because I’m a writer, I will use writing to make my point.
Artistic Expression Will Teach You to Create Something
First of all, it’s very easy to criticize but very difficult to create. When you take a stab at creating something of your own you realize that despite how simple or boring or terrible the output may be, it took a lot of work.
If you continue to work at it, you learn that you can improve. You can hone your skills and will see a noticeable difference in the quality of your work over time. This is both motivating and fulfilling. There are may things in life that take work and you do not see results. But when you apply yourself to a craft, you see the results of your efforts.
As you improve, you start to see how you can control the medium. For example, with writing, I can tell the same story many different ways. I can tell it from different point of views, I can make the characters lovable, menacing. I can tell the story as mystery, I can highlight the romance and tell a love story. I get to make the choices, as the writer. But the reader experiences the story how I want them to.
What’s important about this is when you understand how you can shape a person’s experience by your choices. This is obvious in writing and film-making but it is also true for visual arts.
You realize also that when you experience a book, music, a movie, a painting, you realize that you are seeing what the artist wanted you to see. That artist also made choices. Aspects are highlighted, omitted, shaped on purpose, to effect.
Understanding how information is shaped makes you more engaged in the world around you. You are less inclined to simply accept what you see as the truth, because you understand that someone shaped that truth for you.
Our entertainment culture has created a receptive audience. We focus more on the reaction, than the creation. The more we respond to something, the more successful we make it. Our response is manipulated though. The creators are making us feel and respond and react a certain way, at their will. When you learn to create, you learn what it takes to do this in others. You learn how to make someone feel something, react. You can take them down a bunny trail of ideas to make them adopt something new.
Making Something Will Teach You to Take (and Give) Constructive (and not so constructive) Criticism
To be a writer, you have to submit your work for criticism. You have to put it in front of people who will judge you and criticize both you and your work. It’s not often fair. Many people don’t know how to look at the work on it’s own. They layer it onto what they think of you, what they think of themselves, what they ate that day. If they are also an artist, they may be able to provide feedback on your craft, its effectiveness, its style. The feedback of artists and audiences will be equally frustrating and useful. Both will upset you. Both will throw you broadside into rejection.
If you don’t share your writing, you aren’t attempting to be an artist. Art happens in the exchange between the creator and the audience.
Artists put their heart, mind, time and energy into something and open themselves up for critique. And most of what we create is worthless. In the mountain of work, there are only a few bits that really shine. To continue to produce, we need to sustain the motivation after we’ve faced rejection.
You have to learn to listen to the criticism and pull from it what will help you improve. You need to learn to take it under full consideration without taking it personally. Because so few have studied an art or craft, they don’t know how to take or give constructive criticism without getting personal. This holds them back.
Most Writing Sucks
The problem is most writers, I’d say 95% are not creating anything of artistic value at all. They may be able to tell a good story, they may have good punctuation and sentence structure but most writers aren’t artists; they are emoting. They are confessionists. They are indulgent in self study and are good at creating only a limited output. Like a guitarist who can only play two chords. He can play some songs but is he a musician?
Most writers confuse creating a reaction with creating art or having an impact. What qualifies as art now is simply an over exposure of our minutia; it is our weirdest thoughts, our dumbest moments glorified as if they have innate meaning and should be shared. These moments are not important. They are not revealing or provocative. They create a reaction. That’s it. And as a receptive audience we live for the reaction. We want to react. We want to be emotionally stirred, not necessarily intellectually stirred. The reaction is temporary. We forget what we felt as quickly. We forget the experience. It doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t sit with us. It doesn’t inspire us. It doesn’t haunt us.
The two easiest reactions to create in an audience are shock and pity. Combine the two and you might go viral. Visit any blog page.
This is why so many bloggers are the confessional type who build their audience primarily over one very brave, very revealing post that is usually about something that will make the reader feel pity that the blogger was victimized in a certain way. It is heavy on scary, painful, embarrassing details but light on insights. We don’t walk away from our reading thinking about the world in a new way, we walk away thinking about the writer and taking pity.
Journalism, in an attempt to compete with entertainment, has learned how to create these reactions. The rise of clickbait was the most obvious but it’s infected even classic journalism to the point that traditional media outlets read more like either a horror, a mystery or erotica than cold, unbiased journalism. Pity is used to get us to invest emotionally. Shock is used by the media when they can’t build a convincing story.
If you combine these low quality creative styles with our culture of victim worship you get an audience of upset, reactionary people. You get an art culture that is narcissistic, repetitive, uninspiring and unoriginal. You get what we have now where introspection has been replaced with provocation. You get audiences built on the most outrageous, most unconventional, most pitiful and most shocking. You get Buzzfeed and Gawker. You get naked parades. You get Marina Abramovic and Shia LaBeouf. You get the mattress girl. But that audience is fickle and will not stay. There are more things to react to all around. The stakes get higher. The art gets more outlandish and also more worthless.
Kitten Holiday is a writer, lover and free thinker based in North Carolina. She writes essays, humor, fiction and opinion on her blog Kitten Holiday. Kitten is famous in small circles, widely read by a couple of people and a total bad ass when time allows.