I hate that I'm an arts ignoramus. I wish I were that person who could steep myself in a classical music concert and not want to flee for the exit doors (although in truth, I get tired of even a normal concert after an hour or so and want to be done with that as well). Or trot out to the ballet and really absorb the beauty before my eyes, rather than fidgeting or clock-watching. But try as I might, I just don't tend to gravitate toward fine art. I guess I'm a déclassé slob.
I'm ashamed to admit the extent of my fine arts education (or at least that which imprinted in the haze of my brain) sprung from dubious sources. For painting, the board game Masterpiece was my instructor. Yep, my grasp of the Dutch Masters ran to the famed Rembrandt rendering of an old man who looks like an old woman with a feather in his/her cap. American classics? That celebrated all-night diner oil painting by Edward Hopper. I was particularly proud of myself when I recently recognized a spoof of Hopper's painting in the window of an alternative art gallery in Philadelphia. And to think I owe it all to Masterpiece creators, Parker Brothers!
My appreciation of classical music and opera begins and ends pretty much at the Barber of Seville (make that Rabbit of Seville; thanks, Bugs Bunny). To be fair, I could throw in Elmer Fudd's Wagnerian masterpiece, "Kill the Wabbit!", just to put a finer point on that bonanza of childhood musical education. Likely my aversion toward classical music was further enhanced by my mother and her husband bombarding us with Pachebel's Canon till our ears practically bled. Gimme Bugs Bunny any day over that! In the immortal words of boxer Roberto Durán, no mas!
The first time I traveled to Italy we hired a tour guide to show us around Florence for a few hours. The guide, an American ex-pat, had majored in Art History during college in the States, and immersed herself in glorious Renaissance art while studying abroad, loving the culture so much she stayed. I was amazed at the breadth of her knowledge and even more so the depth of her passion for the subject matter — a double whammy of art and history zeal. Damn! When I was 18 years old, it would not have dawned on me to consider studying art. I thought I needed to pursue an area of study that would lead to a steady income (though recognize in hindsight that journalism didn't made so much sense in that endeavor). But art? I can't even doodle well! Why would I bother?
Yes, I admit it: I'm a cultural troglodyte.
I don't doubt that the manner in which history and art are taught contribute to one's ability to ingest it. I had a peculiar professor in a mandatory European history class during college who felt compelled to act out the high (or low) points of a thousand years of Europe, taking on often many roles in each class. I suppose there are those who were on board with it; I just thought it was a weird distraction.
Yet when I've toured historical venues over the years, I find it most interesting to learn about day-to-day life from so long ago — in some way I can better relate to that versus what Charlemagne was up to on his horse. Perhaps if I had approached the study of history and art from a plebian perspective, it would have struck a more familiar nerve, instead of merely ringing hollow. Better yet, perhaps an historical People Magazine-style education would have done it: celebrity gossip from the Middle Ages! Who's cheating on whom! What's popular this week in illuminated manuscripts and Gregorian Chants!
Drats. Where my interest thrives in useless pop culture, it plummets when it comes to cultured culture.
One thing I think would have helped immensely is emphasizing the whole notion of history being doomed to repeat itself. The older I get the more I see this again and again, and from this perspective it is ingrained into my brain more readily. It seems not a day goes by when that adage isn't reinforced in the news (Soviets invade Afghanistan; Soviets fail in Afghanistan. America invades Iraq; well, you know the drill.)
Perhaps I'm taking baby steps toward acquiring some cultural enlightenment. Ish. Making a foray into a classier classicism, if you could dare call it that (granted it was by accident, but whatever works). Several weeks ago we purchased tickets to see Ben Folds in concert at Wolf Trap Farm Park. Folds is a musical genius whose earlier foray into contemporary music featured profanity-laced lyrics that are largely unprintable. He's since evolved, even launching the popular a capella show Sing Off, with nary an f-bomb.
Too late I realized Folds was performing with the National Symphony Orchestra, which I figured meant I'd be asleep in ten minutes once under the influence of the dulcet strains of the violin section. One person in our group — perhaps influenced by an upbringing devoid of musical culture (my bad!) — didn't care for the symphonic component of the program, But most unexpectedly, I was quite mesmerized by the merging of disparate musical genres in such a beautiful way. And when he impulsively composed an orchestral piece on the spot, teaching each part section by section, well, wow. It helped me to really appreciate how disparate instruments (and their masters) get along for the greater good of the group. It gives you a sense of comfort in this sometimes very dark world that ultimately people can work together to achieve something bigger than themselves as individuals.
Maybe it's never too late to start with this newfound appreciation for the arts. Perhaps in addition to doing a bike or walking tour in the next city I visit, I'll venture into the museum as well. Certainly if they have air conditioning. And maybe a lovely little café. Baby steps, people.
Slim to None
Anywhere But Here
Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me
Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)
Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)
I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)
And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions
The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck
Naked Man On Main Street
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