Monday, December 27, 2021

Happy New Year!

 If the world’s population is ever going to reconcile with itself, and move to a single tribe of diverse humans, the changes in attitude, philosophy, orientation and law will be monumental.

Even to suggest such a shared goal, on the surface, seems to most people nothing short of outrageous, quixotic, dream-like and ultimately merely fantasy. The world of fantasy, bringing together the expansive reaches of the human imagination, as do all artists every hour and every day they enter the space of their unique art, and marrying those ‘visions’ to the facts on the ground, however they might be perceived and integrated, is a bifocal process that risks epic and tragic dismissal.

It is the same kind of dismissal the young adolescent in “The Good Poet’s Society” film who wished to become an actor faced from his father, whose ambition, determination and need was that be enter a “responsible” career. And for that ‘sentence’ we all know that the father meant, “a way to make a living on a consistent, reliable, dependable and thereby honourable existence”. Incipient and aspiring artists have been suffering from such a judgemental sentence for centuries, from fathers and some mothers, who were determined to force a career of conventionality, respectability and “good pay” on their offspring.

And indeed, there is a conventional, cultural, intellectual and above all “pragmatic” and “useful” belief and practice that business, and all of the requirements and disciplines of that modus operandi, are honourable, worthwhile, necessary, and therefore right and mature for all young men and women to consider entering. Such a stereotypical social and cultural “recruitment” program is so deeply embedded in our thinking, normalizing and genuflecting, that universities can and do attract candidates to MBA programs “dressed up” in “international” costumes (I am thinking specifically “American-Canadian”), that corporations will pay at least $100,000 to have their prospective executives “branded” with that degree. Universities, themselves, while stretching beyond their ‘normal’ geographic boundaries, are marketing directly to those already established corporations and their leaders, and thereby filling ‘seats’ and depositing enrolment fees in their coffers. Making money, finding permanent professional employment, through whatever means have been established like colleges and universities, is one way to funnel recent graduates into “real jobs” that attempt to keep the unemployment numbers low, the tax revenues consistent, the crime numbers low, and the purchase of homes, cars, clothes, tech-toys, entertainment, travel, and many of the accoutrements of contemporary healthy living like golf, boating, parties, and various forms of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals rolling as if on another of the plethora of “assembly lines”. We like those assembly lines for their predictability, their statistical resource for the study of everything far beyond how much to produce, what to produce, how much to charge, and even how to predict human behaviour, especially that behaviour that will ensure the smooth running of both the production and ‘supply chain’.

Occasionally, however, given far less daily accounting, a new idea, often prompted by the same motivation that lies at the core of the capitalist, and now universal, machine, a new idea, a gadget, a process, a way to tighten, and thereby reduce the costs and elevate the profits of whatever it is we are producing finds its way into the testing process. That happens, not only in pharma, but also in new fabric, new cooking utensils, new appliances, new self-driving vehicles, and new instruments for disposing of potential bombs (robots) or for reconnaissance without danger (drones). It would be remiss to fail to note the smorgasbord of tech devices, now a “necessity” almost as necessary as the toothbrush, in the hands and lives of all human beings.

And that technology has also made its way into the diagnostics of human cancers, and treatments of many diseases and illnesses, previously outside human comprehension and understanding and treatment or prevention.

So much of that story about new ‘things’ has a beneficial component of considerable proportions. Those proportions include the excitement of the discovery, and the research that went into that discovery, and the multiple operational (mostly still human) needs of production, distribution, marketing, investment, planning and even visioning.

And here is where the ‘market system’ (irrespective of the ratio of public and private dollars that undergird it) intersects with the “artistic” potential and even dependency. It is not only the need for a human imagination to ‘conceive’ of something that can and will be marketed and sold and purchased but also the human need to preserve the opportunity to flex the imagination in ways that are likely to conflict with, to challenge, and to object to some of the precepts that comprise the foundations and the superstructure of the “market-sky-scrapers” that comprise the city-scape of our major cities.

The new technology has, for example, given rise to and considerable opportunity for millions of single entrepreneurs to conceive, and to develop creative expressions, both objects and services of various kinds, for offer to the global consumer, to enhance both the beauty and the effectiveness of our lives. Etsy, among others, has reached into millions of screens, minds and impulses resulting in a massive shift in consumer opportunity, as well as economic feasibility, where previously, few opportunities were feasible.

Imagination, creativity, ingenuity and the human will to create, fortunately, know no national, geographic, linguistic, ethnic, religious or scientific boundaries. They are universal, and they are at the heart of the pulse of each heart and mind and community. And their collective strength far outstrips the collective strength of the singular profit motive. That is not to say that the profit motive is not and cannot be integral to each “creation”….indeed, history is filled with stories about men and women whose determination to meet basic needs has resulted in new offerings, many of an artistic and creative nature.

One difference between those we have celebrated and those treated and valued differently, has been the pragmatic and immediate ‘market’ acceptance of many, and the longer term, and perhaps even less successful penetration of the public consciousness of ideas, objects, creative expressions of various kinds.

Plays that have a ‘run’ of barely a single week, for example, failing to attract ‘seat/ticket sales’ and critics’ acclaim, have faded into the mists of history. A few have been resurrected, for a different time and audience, with a new “twist” with a more successful run. Some “retreads” like the Rogers and Hammerstein productions of many of their renowned musicals have experienced multiple iterations, successes, at the professional and the amateur level of theatres in large cities and very small towns.

And here is again where an obvious intersection of a publicly approved piece of art, and the public’s willingness to underwrite the performance or the exhibition of its beauty and value take place. Museums, libraries, antique shops, science displays like the Smithsonian are repositories of many of our best “pieces of work” and their recent penetration of the digital marketplace has afforded many to benefit (read profit) from their sale.

So on some levels, western culture celebrates art and creativity in many forms and faces, while also, paradoxically, refusing to come to an acceptance of the value art and creativity play in the overall life of the community. Naturally, we accept the role of popular music in the lives of adolescents, and the role of “young literature” increasingly is celebrated by parents everywhere, as something nearly as important and the diet and health care of their children. This is a far cry from the droning, dour and puritanical directive in my family of origin: “Don’t read; do something!” OR of the assumed wisdom of the parental guidance in the words, “Just act: don’t react!” from a seasoned businessman to his son.

Indeed, it is the “bottom-line” approach, the reductionistic to a budgetary bottom line that drives much of the thinking and the processes taught and adopted by the business class. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is  another of the multiple ‘rules’ of procedure for many business operators, and politicians, and thereby implicitly of the culture generally, that is such an accepted piece of wisdom that it often precludes the very kind of “out-of-the-box” initiatives that McDonalds was once reputed to have built a “thinking-retreat-quiet-room” for executives to feel free to enter in order to “create” or “imagine” or “come up with” innovations.

In certain venues, at certain times, and depending on certain specific already “proven” individuals, we are wont to pay attention to ideas, experiments, creative expressions. But our definition of those times, places and people, while somewhat elastic, is still nevertheless highly dependent on a cultural penchant for stability, security, predictability and reliability.

Almost in a counterintuitive and culturally self-sabotaging compulsion, we restrict both the resources dedicated to generating new ideas, the recipients of those resources, the public appreciation of looking toward the future, by any one or more of several imperatives, including:

*you have not proven yourself yet

*you will never amount to anything if you pursue that career path

*you are not living in a family that is “that kind of people” (uttered by a Northern Ontario mother to her highly motivated, highly curious and highly ambitious adolescent son)

*you will never “make” it if you take that route

*you are more interested in instant fame and gratification than in a successful, reliable, dependable, mature life and relationship with a family

*you are tilting at windmills again, if you think you will make anything of yourself in __________....entertainment, design, acting, professional musicianship

*you may have graduated from university, but you do not “have a profession yet” (uttered by an obstetrician-gynecologist father, to his honours graduate in political science)

*you need to make a living, and you need to take steps that will provide some stability and security and “that” route is fraught with perilous uncertainty (almost as if many career routes are still clinging to the ephemeral myth of “joining the circus”)

*you need to remember that only a mere 1-2% of young men and women are able to cut it and find successful careers in professional sports, in national broadcasting, on Broadway, in Hollywood, even in concert halls around the world

* you must avoid putting all your eggs in one basket….so keep you options open, by studying two majors rather than a single major in undergrad school

There is an open and universal tension between a rifle shot approach to one’s choices, and a more “shot-gun” approach to those choices. And a similar tension between creative and the pragmatic. It is socially and professionally and parentally alright to select engineering (any one of its many disciplines) but far less acceptable, at least until the individual has achieved some degree of success. And then the tables do a 180 degree turn.

A brief anecdote from personal experience: A neighbour’s son had a highly artistic, creative and irrepressible flair while in high school along with a relatively strong disaffection and disdain for anything considered curriculum, formal classes, detentions and “obedience compliance” with the system. He was not in any way criminal; but more idiosyncratic, unique, training his crow to speak, building huge box-kites that really flew, and curiously drawing and painting anything and everything he saw. His father, a highly authoritarian long-time game-warden for the provincial government was contemptuous of his son’s aberrant attitudes and behaviour. When the son selected “Ontario College of Art” as his post-secondary venue for further study, his father was not merely contemptuous, but actually incredulous of the choice. After a single term at that college, with the reports of his son’s many accomplishments, he suddenly apparently had an epiphany: “Venturing over the back fence into our backyard, his father trumpeted, in a voice audible for several hundreds yards, “My son, the artist, has done very well at school!” for all within earshot. And then, meticulous and creative in his own way, proceeded immediately to produce a masterpiece “art-case” in polished oak with brass fittings, as a testament to his now “redeemed” son, the artist.

That story, like the millions like it, serves as an archetype, a model and a metaphor for the point I am trying to make. Only today, several decades later, the world has changed. Communities, small and medium-size cities have all come to realize that their arts community is a potential and reliable and dependable and necessary source of renewal. Crafters, artists, actors, musicians, designers and their various traditional venues, support systems and boards of directors, (for those working in groups as non-profits) have risen remarkably to a very different and much more visionary place of prominence and value that at any time in the last century.

And it is not an accident. Labour out-sourcing, corporate greed seeking to cut costs and inflate profits, new technologies, transitional and thereby fluctuating and unstable community economies impacting families, schools, hospitals, and even the traditional retail markets within those towns and cities have birthed both a profound anxiety about how to “recover” and a volcanic opportunity for those willing and able to “see” that opportunity and then to “take” it.

This space, now having been filled nearly 3000 times over the past decade-plus, would not have been available, when I was in the prime of my career. Although I was afforded many opportunities to “speak and to write” about public affairs, for many years, mostly in a small city, and for mere pennies (not a complaint merely a fact, given that I would have done it for nothing because I “loved” every minute of it!), a platform for words, from 1960-2000 of a newspaper, a magazine, a radio station, or a television station was required.

The public had grown accustomed to such public utterances. And there were certain criteria that attempted to govern those publications and broadcasts. That apprenticeship has not been wasted, in millions of lives. And just yesterday, the words on these pages were being read in multiple countries, as, I hope and trust, these words will be read later today and in the days ahead.

I am profoundly grateful for each of the readers who have found these pages. I am also indebted to each of them whose page reads I follow daily, in an attempt to ascertain where these scribblings are finding a welcome, or even becoming something of an irritant.

I have chosen to submit these words without the underwriting of any sponsor, believing that independence and integrity and authenticity and freedom are more likely, for me and for the readers, without such attachments. As I survey the web, however, I am increasingly conscious that even the most worthy sites have advertising, sponsorship and even memberships of some supportive kind. That is another decision and topic for another space and time.

In the meantime, I want to wish each and every reader, in whatever country, and bearing whatever faith and political ideology, the best of health in 2022, the opportunity to contribute to the welter of both information and imagination on which the world depends, and the chance to grow into the most creative, imaginative and courageous individual you can. Happy New Year!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home