Thursday, June 2, 2011

Slouching Towards a High Aesthetic Standard (or People Ain't Got No Taste These Days)

Here's something I really believe in: our generation should vote unrelentingly with our dollar. The systems of our country are so backlogged and creepy and laborious and unnecessarily shrouded in confusion: the justice system, the healthcare system, the stupid dual-party political system (I am a huge disbeliever in both parties), the terrible insidious advertising. People my age seem very despairing and/or lethargic about their inability to enact change. And yeah, casting votes for polished men in suits with impeccable ties and charmingly imperfect smiles feels pretty pointless.

But voting with our dollar--! It's perfect. We all have to spend money, and lots of it, so put your money where your beliefs are. If you hate Jewel, storm the farmer's market and leave no radish unturned. If you believe that clothing designers should be credited for their designs and not blatantly ripped off, avoid Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters like the plague. If you care about the environment, pitch your tent outside your favorite vintage store and join Freecycle.

Personally, I hate big corporations that lie about their business practices, so I switched my biggest expense (rent) to a tiny, family-owned apartment company. I love independent coffee shops, like any good white person, so my boyfriend and I spend a ridiculous amount of money at Intelligentsia and Dollop and Chava. I want things that nobody else has, like any first-born girl, so I buy the occasional laptop cover on Etsy. One of my favorite posessions is a little painting that my boyfriend and I bought from a street artist in Boston. It's absolutely beautiful, it's completely original, it improves my quality of life every time I look at it, and that purchase, which I wanted to make anyway, directly supported an artist. It's the perfect win-win situation, as opposed to, say, donating to a big charity. Not that donating to charities is bad, it just doesn't mesh with our hardwired survival instincts the way that purchasing food, clothes, and housing does. So it's not as sustainable; it's not a lifestyle choice, really. Does that make sense?

So yah, yah, yah, I try to be good and support the arts and spend mah hard-earned cash at places that don't make me feel nauseous. LIKE JEWEL. But today I had a realization. A meritocratic, anti-hipster realization: the kind you've come to demand from my government-funded website ( Care to read on?

"Supporting the arts" isn't enough. "Supporting the arts" is something everybody prides themselves on doing, from celebrities who attend charity galas to white boys with rich parents who start their own zines (oh wait--that's not supporting the arts at all). "Supporting the arts" is something that sounds really nice and will probably impress your date because it showcases the tender quality of your social consciousness--but "supporting the arts" is a vapid phrase that needs to be cut from our vocabulary.

Support the good arts, dammit!

The world is overrun with people who lo-o-o-o-ove art. Woohoo, art is so great! They love aesthetic for aesthetic's sake, but have no visceral pull towards creating or witnessing real artistic achievement and no desire to delineate art into categories like good, better, best, and shit. These are aesthetes without taste; people to whom the idea of "greatness" is probably kind of terrifying; people who like to capitalize the word Art. Because nothing makes a rich white person feel better than experiencing a little Art, except maybe cocaine.

But the simple fact of the matter is that art can suck, and not all art deserves a minute of your time, much less a fraction of your paycheck. "Gallery opening" sounds glamorous, but do you actually like the art? Do you see some worth there? Some meaning? Some hip non-meaning that really speaks to you? Are you buying that chair because you truly love it or because an independent artisan made it on Etsy? Are you going to that reading because the people reading are fucking badass writers or does "going to readings!" make you feel like a cultured person?

Why are people so reluctant to admit that "art" isn't a holy word? Is it because "this painting sucks!" makes you sound ignorant? Is it because you think everything is relative? Is it because you want to be an artist and you think you have to pay your dues and you don't want people to criticize you when it's your turn to get onstage? I'm not being sarcastic; I'm being REAL, folks. Real like Coco's greatest asset.

I'm totally at fault here, too, so don't jump down my throat. There have been times when I stroke my reclaimed shade-grown aluminum neck brace and murmur to myself, "I feel like wandering around a museum for the afternoon and then soaking in a night of spoken word at La Cafe. It's fabulous being a member of the cultured intelligentsia." But I think we need to be harsh and unrelenting and admit to ourselves that amateur spoken word is probably terrible and we'd be doing ourselves and the universe a favor if we just went home and read some Borges. You know: greatness.

Supporting the arts blindly is kind of a terrible thing. Cultivating discernment? Putting your meaningful dollar toward a meaningful experience or creation or just a really beautiful hardcover? That's so hip.

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You are truly great.