kfw

American Dumbed Down vs. Euro High Falutin'?

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... I wonder what universal good we would be willing to support. If not the arts, if not education...

...if not public health...

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... I wonder what universal good we would be willing to support. If not the arts, if not education...

...if not public health...

Sadly, it is all too clear where and when the government will spend money: wars to fight regimes we once supported, prisons for those who we have failed to educate, bailouts to save industries from their malfeasance --- not to mention all the industry subsidies and pork. I guess when a country has lost a deeper sense of some kind of universal will, it can only find the political will to back "emergency actions." Everything else is done by political extortion. What we need is a positive, rather than reactive and negative, sense of the public good. But this is more difficult, since it means coming to a general consensus about what we as humans (or as Americans) should be and become, rather than merely what is necessary to survive as we are. European countries like France and Germany seem to have a strong sense of culture as a part of their national identity, not least of all because, especially for Germany after the second world war, this was one of the few ways they could continue to assert national identity without renewing militarism and imperialist ambitions.

I also wonder if things are not worse now than before: during the cold war, Americans saw themselves in competition with a real communism that had to be taken seriously as a military, cultural, athletic, even economic power. So we needed to do well at those things where the communists did well. The Russians, of course, did well at ballet. But now the communism American politicians and ideologues fight against is truly, again, a specter, and so resistance to communism has taken the form of resistance to all forms of government support for any common good beyond the barest conditions of economic activity and personal liberty --- without realizing that most "socialist" policies instituted in Western Europe and America were done to avoid the sorts of economic, social, political crises that were thought to lead inevitably to communism (or fascist) revolution.

But this is ballet talk, not political rant, so back to the point: I feel that if institution-intensive arts like ballet or opera or classical music are to survive in America, arts organization need a powerful, multi-pronged approach for integrating them better into American life. I don't think there can be a simple political consensus in support of arts that demand so much of their audience. But it might be possible, through a number of convergent strategies, to achieve a flourishing cultural life.

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keguri,

very well said!

Thank you for your thoughts on this.

Another thing:

There is of course also a much more homogenous society in many european countries, which does make it _somewhat_ easier to decide which things are important.

I would venture to say that all cultures are important, and nearly all of them have at their center music, dance, literature (and more).... and this we can (and really should) find ways of supporting.

Where to begin, when so many citizens are struggling to keep up a minimum of life-quality is a huge challenge.

-d-

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Interesting thread: for the record though the UK is as dumbed down as it is possible to get. Mainland Europe's cultural attitudes have never really made it across the Channel.

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Interesting thread: for the record though the UK is as dumbed down as it is possible to get. Mainland Europe's cultural attitudes have never really made it across the Channel.

Well, you are correct in that many people enjoy simpler interests and pleasures, but one has to be inclined to say it depends on the milieu you inhabit whether it is in the UK or Europe.

I find the nouveau riche snobisme of the French unpalatable and the German and Austrian snobistisch unbearable in their appreciation of their own arts and would be loathed for the UK to adopt their cultural attitudes.

People from almost every walk of life in the UK today attend arts events in greater numbers than at any other period of the past.

It is too easy to generalise about the cultural activities of any country and it is an unattractive designation to describe any element of a population to be described as "dumbed down."

For those who know, the USA has for more than a hundred years welcomed great artists and produced a good number as well. Its academic activities in respect of the arts are expansive. You have great orchestras, a number of good opera houses, significant museums and art galleries which are renowned. Academic study of the arts in America is so rich it’s impossible to keep up with every dissertation and publication.

These are things for America to be proud of but, in a democracy it has to be arts for everybody. Some of my interests were further encouraged by the TV shows that Leonard Bernstein made way back when and I am sure such an open for everybody to see and hear approach is one of the right ways to introduce culture to those who have little or no understanding of the word.

However you approach the problem of funding for education arts and events, I may be wrong, but the problem lies with American history which to my English mind, has reflected the feeling that although central government and state funding for the arts exist, they are not deemed a necessity or a right by everyone and for some American politicians, the concept of funding arts and cultural education and their activities by the state, still smacks of socialism and effetism.

The important question is how committed are governments to broadening the experience of all their citizens and of course this works two

ways. You either offer opportunity to learn or you impose cultural education. In many homes, family values will be the deciding factor for many children and young people.

The rejection of the high arts is commonplace. "How will such knowledge of culture put bread on the table and what do you have to show for going to the opera, how will it really help and you and your family, " may well be the damning of a spark of interest.

I cannot think of any country where a sincere elevation of knowledge is a guiding principle for all people from disadvantaged groups. After all who would do the jobs that educated and cultivated people do not want to do.

In England state funding for the arts began with the founding in 1940 Committee for Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) set up by Royal Charter and one the most important events for the arts in Great Britain was the appointment of John Maynard Keynes as it chairman in 1941 who established funding for 46 arts organisation by the end of the 2nd World War. Its successor The Arts Council of England (There are Scottish. Welsh and Northern Ireland Arts Councils) now regularly supports some 880 arts organisations. Our major arts organisations are all supported by government funding.

As to Europe, if you want to discover the German Arts Funding Model might like to read:

http://www.osborne-conant.org/funding_model.htm

France has a Ministry of Culture and the modern post of Minister of Culture was created by Charles de Gaulle in 1959. Wikipedia gives a very good background to the concept of the, "right to culture." See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minister_of_Culture_(France)

Interestingly, the so called real upper class of the UK are no longer to be seen at the opera and ballet in London. I wonder if they have become dumbed down?

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Interesting thread: for the record though the UK is as dumbed down as it is possible to get. Mainland Europe's cultural attitudes have never really made it across the Channel.

Well, you are correct in that many people enjoy simpler interests and pleasures, but one has to be inclined to say it depends on the milieu you inhabit whether it is in the UK or Europe.

I find the nouveau riche snobisme of the French unpalatable and the German and Austrian snobistisch unbearable in their appreciation of their own arts and would be loathed for the UK to adopt their cultural attitudes.

People from almost every walk of life in the UK today attend arts events in greater numbers than at any other period of the past.

It is too easy to generalise about the cultural activities of any country.

For those who know, the USA has for more than a hundred years welcomed great artists and produced a good number as well. Its academic activities in respect of the arts are expansive. You have great orchestras, a number of good opera houses, significant museums and art galleries which are renowned.

Academic study of the arts in America is so rich it’s impossible to keep up with every dissertation and publication.

These are things for America to be proud of.

If however you approach the problem of funding for arts education and events, the problem lies with American history which to my English mind, seems to feel that although central government and state funding for the arts exist, is not deemed a necessity and for some American politicians it still smacks of socialism and effetism.

In England state funding for the arts began with the founding in 1940 Committee for Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) set up by Royal Charter and one the most important events for the arts in Great Britain was the appointment of John Maynard Keynes as it chairman in 1941 who established funding for 46 arts organisation by the end of the 2nd World War. Its successor The Arts Council of England (There are Scottish. Welsh and Northern Ireland Arts Councils) now regularly supports some 880 arts organisations. Our major arts organisations are all supported by government funding.

As to Europe, if you want to discover the German Arts Funding Model might like to read:

http://www.osborne-conant.org/funding_model.htm

France has a Ministry of Culture and the modern post of Minister of Culture was created by Charles de Gaulle in 1959. Wikipedia gives a very good background to the concept of the, "right to culture." See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minister_of_Culture_(France)

Interestingly, the so called real upper class are no longer to be seen at the opera and ballet in London. I wonder if they have become dumbed down?

This last post makes some very good points. Perhaps it is wrong to think of it as a question of culture being dumbed down. I would agree that different cultural products possess different degrees of "intelligence," that producers vary greatly in the intelligence (emotional, acoustic, visual, choreographic ---not just logical) that they can inscribe into a work, and that consumers of culture also vary in their ability to "read" this "intelligence." But the relation between the intelligence of the object and the intelligence of the consumer is subtle. It would be wrong, I think, to suppose ( and this supposition is sometimes made by defenders of "high art") that "intelligent" culture exists only where these three moments coincide. It is possible for an extremely "challenging" work to speak to us in a visceral, immediate way. And a seemingly simple, naive work can become illuminated through a subtle reading, revealing unexpected depth and sophistication.Just as popular forms of entertainment, without always originating in a single mind of penetrating originality, genius, discipline, and training, nevertheless can offer amazing insight into the complexities of the world that produced it. Works that have been granted the imprimitur of a cultural elite can appear hollow and soulless, while seemingly ephemeral pieces, embraced by the masses, often have their own perfection and power.

For me it is thus a question not so much of the intelligence-level of culture as whole, but rather of what one might call "artistic ecology." Different kinds of artwork thrive in different economic and social conditions. In America, now more than ever, mass consumer culture thrives, and has become, in a certain way, very intelligent, and certainly very powerful. There are many TV shows out there that are extraordinarily sophisticated and brilliant, and even pop music has something to it. (I confess --- I'm at once repulsed and intrigued by Lady Gaga. She combined utter vulgarity with such sensitive eyes and an intriguing almost rococo aesthetics.) The novel seems very strong, and I'm sure that there is still good small-scale theater coming out in major cities. But the problem is with arts like ballet, opera, and classical music, that are at once "institution-intensive" and largely dependent on live performances for revenue. These, it seems, are imperiled, for the simple reason that the minimum production costs (esp. including training) are very high, and the potential revenue relatively low. Nor is it possible for them to find broad exposure outside of belittling citations in popular videos and advertisements. The American university system, with its vast resources, somewhat makes up for this, as does parents' willingness to invest huge amounts in cultivating their children's talents. And of course private philanthropy plays a huge role. But this is not enough, and especially in the case of the "Academization" of the arts, the effects can be very pernicious, since it removes artists, at the most vital stage of their training, from the need to find a voice that communicates to anyone beyond their professors and their peers.

The question I would ask is: how can we create a thriving "artistic ecology": an artistic ecosystem in which a great possible diversity of different art-forms (where this difference is understand in terms not of the message, but the structural conditions of its production) can co-exist and thrive, gaining from their reciprocal interactions? Neither the Continental European nor the American model seems to achieve this, but perhaps they could compliment each other. I've felt for a long time that dance could play a very large role in this ecology: not as a "total work of art," in the sense of Wagner, but a "pluralistic work of art," which brings other forms of art together in provocative constellations, yet without seeking to dominate these through a single unifying aesthetic ideal.

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And of course private philanthropy plays a huge role. But this is not enough, and especially in the case of the "Academization" of the arts, the effects can be very pernicious, since it removes artists, at the most vital stage of their training, from the need to find a voice that communicates to anyone beyond their professors and their peers.

Very true. A home in the academy seems to work for poetry but not necessarily for other art forms. (Although some poets resist it when they can. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath shared a common horror of getting stuck in teaching jobs. Conditions in Britain made it possible for them to survive outside the academy. In America they probably couldn't have done.)

Nice comments from everyone. Others?

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Interestingly, the so called real upper class of the UK are no longer to be seen at the opera and ballet in London. I wonder if they have become dumbed down?
Oh! SUCH a loaded question! Forgive me if this sounds like a stereotype, but I am far more likely to read about a British titled girl with a hyphenated name going club hopping and turning her gap-year into a gap-decade than to see pictures of her attending the Royal Ballet's opening night gala. For all of her flakiness, at least Princess Diana patronized the Royal Ballet and provided it with some glamour, providing some great publicity and setting an example for young ladies everywhere of wonderful things to do when you dress well and go out on the town. Now....it's just club hopping in about Spanish Isles and "working" as interns for Vogue.

Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly were proponents of ballet and the arts in general. We really don't have an "icon" today that lights the way. Miley Cyrus? Brittney Speers? Lindsey Lohan? Paris Hilton? At least Michelle Obama has been promoting the arts by attending Broadway shows, ballet, and inviting a wider range of artists to the White House events.

150 years ago, there were more Shakespeare plays performed in the US than in the UK. Americans were ravenous for entertainment, and Shakespeare really hits all the notes of the human condition. American oligarchs have supported the Arts in the US for over 200 years (and thank god!), although yachts and yacht racing seems to be gaining in popularity of late. We've never had a very history of communal support for the arts, although I am quite happy that Seattle has a law setting aside a specific percentage of tax revenue for the arts each fiscal term. The city is all the better for it.

I suppose every country has its share of "lager louts" (or NASCAR rednecks) and "culture snobs", each side disparaging the other to feel secretly superior. I am trying to view the world as Auntie Mame did "Life's a feast and most poor suckers are starving to death!" In other words - go see everything you can fit into your budget, and enjoy it all. Somehow the arts still survive in America - though perhaps not always thrive - and studies have shown that municipal support for the arts is a net gain. The funds spent come back to the municipal coffers through increased - and sustained - spending in local restaurants, parking fees, shopping, etc.

Sports (which I love, do not take this the wrong way) have limited "event" revenue generation for small businesses and city tax revenue. But a variety of arts provides year round spending, and sustainable job creation in the services that surround the arts (restaurants, retail, etc).

Maria Shriver just wrote an interesting article on voluntary support of the Arts through specialty license plates (a very American idea indeed!)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maria-shrive...d_b_626294.html

Stepping off my soap box for the evening....

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These are the way I've seen interest in the arts germinate:

1. Family (extended and chosen) and friends: being taken to a performance, music or dance DVDs played in the house.

2. Peer pressure. (Can work with #1, if wanting to impress someone by appearing/being interested.)

3. School programs.

4. Participation: everything from lessons/classes to rehearsals/performances to singing the "Toreador Song" in the summer camp chorus.

5. Lone interest piqued: advertising, seeing/hearing clips or entire performances on TV or hearing on the radio or internet, reading about in a newspaper article or book.

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These are the way I've seen interest in the arts germinate:

1. Family (extended and chosen) and friends: being taken to a performance, music or dance DVDs played in the house.

2. Peer pressure. (Can work with #1, if wanting to impress someone by appearing/being interested.)

3. School programs.

4. Participation: everything from lessons/classes to rehearsals/performances to singing the "Toreador Song" in the summer camp chorus.

5. Lone interest piqued: advertising, seeing/hearing clips or entire performances on TV or hearing on the radio or internet, reading about in a newspaper article or book.

An excellent summary, which more or less fits my own experience. (Having grown up in a classical arts friendly part of the U.S., at a time when public education was defined more broadly and valued more seriously than today, I might weigh "School Programs" and "Participation" more heavily.)

I would also add "Access to High-Level Live Performance." This may well have been the key variable for me, insofar as it provided real and sustained experience. Without that, I wonder whether those more formative influences you list would have taken root.

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I would also add "Access to High-Level Live Performance." This may well have been the key variable for me, insofar as it provided real and sustained experience. Without that, I wonder whether those more formative influences you list would have taken root.

I'm wondering if this will change or is in the process of changing with the Internet. I'm still stuck by PNB soloist James Moore's answer in a Q&A session to the question "Do you see dancers from other companies", and he responded that he sees them all the time on YouTube. With the Internet, you don't have to wait for singer XYZ to show up at your local opera company or dancer ABC to guest with ABT: you can watch them on demand. The amount of opera broadcasts over the radio that are streamed worldwide -- no longer limited to the Met, the local company, and maybe two other companies like Chicago that are picked up nationally -- is extraordinary. With ballet it's a lot harder given the dearth of material by comparison, audio being so much more ahead of video in terms of the cost/quality ratio, and the vigilance with which material is pulled -- selling opera pirates is pretty big business and has been for decades, while ballet pirating still seems more like a trading club (although I could be out of the loop) -- but still YouTube is a lifeline for people for whom live performances are unfeasible due to distance, money, having small children or being a full-time caretaker for a parent, etc. It exposes people to works, style, performers, and standards outside their own space.

Also online communities make the one music or dance nerd in the middle of nowhere -- that could be in the middle of a big urban high school or a place that's geographically isolated -- find people with whom to speak about their interests, and, in the case of younger people, be taken seriously.

Edited to add: Because so many people from around the world speak English and post in English on the Internet, Americans are exposed to other viewpoints, assumptions, and expectations in the arts.

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