Has anyone else noticed that the real arts in the US have all but disappeared? By real arts, I'm talking about masterpieces of graphic art (like the Mona Lisa); masterpieces of prose, such as War and Peace, 1984, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Beowulf, Romeo and Juliet, etc; masterpieces of sculpture, such as The Thinker; masterpieces of cinema, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Nosferatu, Citizen Kane. What happened to them?
What does modern society consider art today? The iPhone G3? The latest in electro-luminescent clothing? The coolest new car design? The summer line by [insert popular fashion designer here]? Is it the latest Hollywood blockbuster, that has virtually nothing in the way of redeeming social commentary, but has some GREAT special effects, all done on computer? Is it the latest number one bestselling novel, also endorsed by Oprah, which has absolutely no redeeming social value, and instead plays directly into the desires of the masses, of sex, violence, and action?
True art is dead.
What are the real concerns of the modern human? Gas prices, the farce of an election in 2008, getting the latest electronics (mobile phones, digital cameras, portable computers, etc), the biggest Hollywood blockbusters, and who's going to win the big prize on [insert reality TV show here].
How many people actually read anymore? I'm not talking about classic literature, text books, or technical manuals. How many people read novels - of any sort? Not many. In 2002, the Boston Globe reported a ten percent drop in readers, from 59.6% of Americans to 46.7% of Americans, since 1982. This same statistic was reported by The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). 2002 was six years ago. It's gotten worse since then.
You can find the evidence all around you. Amazon.com, who once sold only books and a few movies on DVD and VHS, has now branched out into just about everything from bathroom furnishings, to clothes, to computers. They're just one example.
Booksellers across the nation are closing down. The only ones surviving in this climate of disregard for the written word are the major chains, such as Barnes and Noble. I've personally witnessed at least a dozen small, single location booksellers disappear. There was also a time that the "trendy" neighborhood downtown used to feature independent movie houses, that showed only classic and independent films, as well as art galleries galore and a few independent booksellers, specializing mostly in used and obscure books (trying to bring books to the less financially fortunate among us) among the bars and music shops. All that remains now are the bars, music stores, and various chotchkie shops, along with a few restaurants. The arts-based businesses are gone. The only arts businesses left are the music shops, who only keep their rent paid by carrying the latest top forty albums and selling t-shirts galore.
I ask again, where have the arts gone? As I type this, I've noticed that the number two best-seller on BarnesandNoble.com is sTori Telling, by Tori Spelling. If this isn't a bit of trite crap that enables people to not think, and only serves to quell their fascination with celebrities, may [Insert diety here] strike me down right this second. I have not and never will read this book, but I bet it has more pictures and less substance than Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.
The bottom line is this: modern Americans are not interested in the arts. Bettering themselves only means getting a promotion at work. People no longer have use for the classics of the past that still carry enough relevance to shatter the earth under the feet of its readers. Some classics have even become more relevant in recent years.
The two I recommend the most highly to people are George Orwell's 1984, and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Between these two works, we have the political climate explained to us, as well as what's happening to literature (and more broadly, the arts in general).
End your complacency. Read. Learn. Improve. Help save the world.