Remember the old problem many of us pondered in elementary school science class? The question went something like this: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to witness the event, is there any sound? The same might be asked about the future of art: If a masterpiece is painted and no one has the ability to appreciate it, is it still a masterpiece? I think the answers to both questions are: 1: Sound waves are still created, but if there are no receptors available in the form of ears to be acted upon, the occurrence of the tree falling would be very quiet. 2: I think it’s a definite yes, it would still be a masterpiece, but also a tragedy at the same time, since there would be no emotional receptors available to appreciate it.
This leads me to my topic . . . I have often wondered how the current crop of young people, with all of their high-tech immersion from birth to adulthood, will respond to the “dirty arts” in the future. By dirty arts, I use a phrase passed on to me by fellow artist Tom Howard, who is a fine painter and instructor at Salt lake Community College. Simply put, the dirty arts are not produced at a keyboard and have no high-tech roots whatsoever. I’m talking about the old fashioned method of putting paint down on a canvas, charcoal or other drawing media to paper and sculpture in all of its forms — the dirty arts, perpetrated by those “dirty artists” who are in the physical trenches of the art world applying their medium in the time-tested arena of physical, emotional and spiritual toil. Nothing high-tech about that, and perhaps even a throwback to a bygone age.
The question I ask is not rhetorical in nature, but actually one to which I’d like to get a satisfactory answer. I suppose my desire to know is sparked not only by curiosity, but also by a somewhat selfish desire to know what the art market will be like in a few more years. Will the collector base start to shrink as the older collectors die off and the high-tech generation grows up, or will there possibly be a backlash desire for things that are not from the realm of computers, smartphones, iPads, smart glasses and whatever else the technological future has in store for us? (Let’s hope so!) Will the new generation crave nature and landscape art as a respite from their everyday life, or will their collective sensitivity to nature and quiet beauty be lost on them due to the different paradigm they grew up in?
Add to the mix all of the special effects in movies these days and the constant need to be plugged into ear buds for a continuous flow of music so seemingly necessary to their entertainment and emotional survival. As a corollary to that, what about shrinking budgets and the new emphasis on testing, testing and more testing in core academic areas in the schools and less emphasis on the arts?
If any of my readers have thoughts on this I would love to hear from you. If I get enough responses I might even include your comments in the next issue of Hints ‘n’ Tips due to publish in June. Please keep in mind, I am not attempting to indict a whole generation of people, just simply asking a question. I don’t know what the future holds, but my curiosity is difficult to ignore.
It’s interesting how I even came to think about this subject in the first place. One day, about ten or twelve years ago, I was painting on location down off the canal road near my home when I was suddenly caught off guard by a young couple who were pushing a stroller. They stopped and started applauding as though something wonderful was taking place. I looked around to see what had caught their attention and realized it was me, standing at my easel. They told me it was “sooooo good to see someone actually doing something real for a change instead of some mindless entertainment on a computer.” OK…? I thought. I had no idea at the time that this was even an issue; I was barely into my first cell phone and just learning to text! Having grown up in an earlier technological decade, I guess I just didn’t give much thought to the amount of time some people spend in the world of technology, but that started me thinking . . . Of course now, with the amount of technology out there, I get it, but that still doesn’t answer the question about the future. People are dependent on their devices a lot, but has this changed their ability to appreciate the subtle beauties of nature and art?
Whatever the outcome of this whole shift to a hyper- technological society, I certainly hope people will recognize the benefits of art in their life and specifically the “dirty arts.” The opposite is a sad scenario to contemplate. I haven’t come to any conclusions on the issue and again, would love to hear from you. Whatever your conclusions though, please state them along with some possible solutions, if they happen to be negative. I look forward to satisfying my curiosity some more.
An award-winning artist and teacher who has been painting the landscape both in and out of the studio since 1983, John Hughes maintains a studio in Taylorsville and teaches students in private workshops and in a course at Salt Lake Community College.