‘Mediocrity’ ain’t forever

A recent American survey showed serious gaps concerning the arts education of elementary-level students.  Most students were unable to identify a half note, a Renaissance painting, and more, and only 16% of those surveyed reported being taken to an art gallery, museum or exhibition.

It seems that there is an relentless battle about what should be taught of the many subjects which can be taught. As a person who several years ago worked at a not-for-profit literary event, aimed primarily at younger families, I am reliving the anguish. The public education system is waging war on basic skills — basic reading, basic math — and letting all creativity and diversity fritter away under the guise of bringing students to the same level. I suddenly feel like the film Idiocracy was not so much a satire as a dire prediction.

Blame the teachers, right? Wrong. Teachers have to commute their lessons to basic skills because students aren’t being given these at home.

In my childhood home the shelves were filled with books and the walls adorned with art (though much of it was inherited). On my tenth birthday Mom took me to the ballet. On my 14th birthday it was the Art Gallery of Ontario. And every Christmas the family would go see a Mirvish production. My sister and I were given music and dance lessons, encouraged to read and write constantly, exposed to a myriad genres of music. My parents were not, by any means, terribly affluent though there is no doubt in my mind that my sister and I were abundantly priveleged.

When did ‘teaching’ at home become unnecessary? When did a solid liberal arts education become the public school board’s responsibility?

I’m not looking to lay blame at home any more than I want to lay it on schools, but I think that the arts are something that families should share. There are so many museums and galleries that are free or have discounted rates for students or families. Free music is everywhere. Libraries are full of books on art and music. It’s not a question of who can afford to appreciate art, but who can afford to not appreciate it.

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
– Pablo Picasso

Having watched, and rewatched and circulated MoMA’s I See video to as many people as I can, the meaning of it and the power behind it has walloped me. It’s a great vid in and of itself, high production value, strong writing, all of that. The thing that appeals to me the most is that it’s not advertising MoMA, or any particular exhibit. What it’s promoting is art appreciation. It’s overarching message is that an ordinary person can appreciate art — perhaps not for the same things appreciated by art students, critics, dealers, artists and other card-carrying citizens of the art world — using your senses and your daily experiences as a baseline and a point of reference. It’s a beautiful concept, and I hope one that sends people to museums and galleries unafraid of being the obvious neophyte.

Every child’s strength is different; many children excel despite a lack of attention, so this survey doesn’t convince me that the next generation are doomed. But it never hurts for parents to take the initiative themselves — forget a night on the couch, take your kids to the ARTS.

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