Thursday, March 15, 2012

Arts in Competition with One Another

I was rather taken aback to find an announcement about a competition for bloggery about the arts in my mailbox last night. I avoid competitions as a rule, and tend to particularly avoid competitions that are looking for "the best" of anything. I participate in this ever-changing entity that I like to call the musical blogosphere purely for the fun of it, so I'm not throwing my hat into the ring. Besides, I have finals to give during the week that the concert series these people are promoting is being held. And with all the arts at play, I can't imagine how any person or group of people could come up with a single winner.

I am intrigued by the first question, however, so I'll play along.

"New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?"

The only thing that is more absurd than trying to decide which of the "arts" is the "best" is to try to decide a location that is superior to another location. I lived in New York for four years, and I had a wonderful time doing so on my limited budget (I was a Juilliard student). When I lived in New York (1976-1980) the city was not as safe as it is today, and it was also not as expensive to live in as it is today. Musicians and artists could find living spaces they could afford. There were day jobs that people could get, because making the city work required people punching typewriters and sending messages from one place to another. Jobs for musicians were not plentiful, but there was still a chance, if you knew the right people, and always played the right notes and the right rhythms, that you could get an array of musical jobs in the city that paid the rent.

I recall that admission to most museums used to be either free or nominal, and it was always possible for me to sneak into concerts during intermission, go to cheap double features at the Thalia, and find bargains at the thrift stores on Third Avenue. I imagine that security is tighter at concerts these days, and I know that movies are very expensive in Manhattan, and things you used to buy at thrift stores have now become vintage items, collectibles, and antiques. It's only been 30 odd years since I lived there. Things change.

I miss telephone booths, the book and record stores, and coffee shops that served only two kinds of coffee: regular and black.

But I digress.

After I graduated from Juilliard I went to Europe, where I was extremely excited to experience culture on an entirely new level, historical and otherwise. In Vienna I found that the museums (which were also free at the time) had mind-boggling collections. I found the culture extremely stimulating (and the coffee was too). I had an American friend who introduced me to the Jazz world of Vienna, a world I knew I never would have gained entry to in New York, and I was welcomed into various other social artistic circles that I never would have been welcomed into in New York.

I only spent a small amount of time in Germany, but I enjoyed the museums I visited immensely. Italy was a total feast, both visually and gastronomically. Never once did I long for New York for its museum culture, its musical hierarchies, the speed at which people tended to play, and the way people had to hustle to get ahead in the musical world.

I love visiting New York, and I always feel at home there. Like any city it has its high points (always personal) and low points (also always personal). My last visit to the Guggenheim museum was a total disappointment, and the Whitney always seems to be hit and miss. I tend to find the "ahead of the trend" visual art scene in New York (reflected in the exhibits at those two museums) on the pretentious side. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised.

I'm glad that I live in a place where I can enjoy art and music in many cities. From my perch in Illinois I can visit Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and the smaller cities (that also have art and music) like Champaign-Urbana and Terre Haute (surprising, I know, but I love the Swope Museum). I love my family in Los Angeles (where there is a huge supply of art to see and music to hear) and Boston, and I love my friends in New York, but I just don't consider it an artistically superior place to the other cities I have lived in or visited.

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