Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fandom Redux

Figure skater Kim Yu Na 
Yeow, I hit some kind of nerve with my last post about the difference between sports fans and arts fans. Or maybe it was just because I used a photo of the great quarterback Russell Wilson that so many of you read the post. I was pondering the reason that so many people love sports, relative to arts love. Some of you commented that the reason the arts don't have a larger fan base is, at its roots, financial. Agreed, the arts receive a microscopic percentage of the entertainment dollars spent in this country. Maybe better funding would help build up artistic institutions.

And what about arts literacy? Are we really teaching school kids to not just analyze poetry, but to recognize its inherent beauty, and its importance as a conduit to our emotions? Forget dance education! When I was in elementary school we had square dancing. I don't recall any conversation about historic dance leaders like Martha Graham or Merce Cunningham.

But the recent Winter Olympics got me to thinking about accessibility. Most sports are easy to grasp, right? Football is about scoring touchdowns; ski racing, or track or rowing or cycling, are all about speed. The winner is the first to cross the finish line. Then there are the less transparent sports, like figure skating. Why did a young Russian win the gold medal, when so many thought South Korean champion Kim Yu Na delivered a lovelier and more artful performance? The judging is subjective. In other, triter, words: beauty was in the eye of the beholder.

With art, it's not necessarily about beauty, but about the artistic intent of the work. How important is it that audiences grasp that intent?  Personally, I like to have some idea why I'm listening to or watching something. And often, I really am at a loss. I'm not saying that artists need to be less subtle, or more simplistic. I just have to find a way in somehow, even if it's just a consciousness of my response to something. I'm curious about entry points into art. How important is that at the outset of the artistic process? How important should it be? And would it help develop the arts audience?

Commercial arbiters in cinema, for example, believe the entry points are chase scenes, or gross jokes. Because the goal of commercial film is to make money. But what's the goal of a great painting, or dance, or symphony? The creators were inspired to use their media to say something. How much do we as audience members need to know to understand the artistic message? Or is it necessary at all? Honestly, I don't know the answer to this; I'd love to know what you think.

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