Monday, November 5, 2012

In the eyes of the French

           With the presidential elections this week, American newspapers have been bombarding us with an overload of information on both candidates and incessant poll updates, which in reality have not brought much new information to the forefront and has begun to feel redundant.  As a result, I decided to cross the Atlantic and take a look at the sorts of things being talked about in my home country.  
In France, the newspaper Le Figaro had several interesting articles pertaining to the art world and I thought that its take on American culture might bring a new and interesting perspective to our discussions.  As citizens of the United States we are often prone to point out this country’s flaws, politically of course, but also in smaller subsets, such as the state of culture as it stands today.  We’ve talked about the place of popular art versus elite art, and have felt helpless against pop culture, fighting to maintain our place as classical musicians in a society that seems to be shutting us out.  
We have been trying to figure out a way to make classical music modern and pertinent, and to make modern classical music accessible and maybe even popular.  We’ve talked about Fifty Shades of Grey, and have balked at the idea that classical works infused a novel that clearly belongs to popular culture - two worlds that couldn’t be further apart.  For centuries now, Paris has been one of the leading capitals in the world for culture.  It boasts several important museums such as the Louvre, the Grand Palais, and the Musee d’orsay, among countless others.  It has been a center for music, fashion and literature as well.  So when I saw an article entitled “L’Amerique dans tous ses etats” (America in all its states), I wasn’t sure if I was going to like what it had to say.  
The French have an aptitude for making themselves sound superior and have always had a love-hate relationship with the U.S.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had some really great things to say.  It started out by listing several American goings-on about Paris, such as an Edward Hopper exhibit, a West Side Story production and the press around Philip Roth’s newest novel, Nemesis.  It did not omit the waves of popular culture that sometimes appear to reflect all that America has to offer, such as Fifty Shades of Grey for example, but it reminded us that America is not “just Fifty Shades of Grey... not just Avatar.”  The article also reminds us that America is one of those countries which does not stay stuck in the past.  It is quick to reinvent itself and a huge force to contend with in contemporary art.  It cites as an example Michelle Obama’s penchant for wearing (and thereby endorsing) clothes by up and coming designers - the first First Lady to do so.  This may seem trivial, but it is often through small gestures that points can be made and culture identities are established.  In the eyes of the French, America is not sinking in an oblivion of mass popular culture; it is constantly reinventing itself and on the edge of modernity.  
           This article reawakened in me the feeling that I first felt when I came to this country - that here, anything is possible.  Although that feeling has never left me, it has at times been buried under the mountain of scrutiny which all of us are guilty of.  We are always harder on ourselves than we are on others, and it becomes easy to forget to notice all that is good.  I do believe that America is a land of opportunity, and a place where reinvention is indeed a way of life.  We have so many options and possibilities available to us, and while the road is not always easy to follow, in my opinion, it has at least been built.  It gives me hope for the future of classical music, as we continue to discuss and become creators of new ways of promoting it, performing it, and educating our public.

Ideas for Wikipedia:

The Beethoven Festival
Classical Music in Film
Martha Argerich Presents Project

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