My grandmother recently got an iPad. This was a relatively big milestone in her life, because she barely knows how to use her cell phone (and certainly never hears it ring). She still refers to her computer (which she’s never touched) as “The Machine.” One could say that technology and certain parts of the 21st century have been tough on her. But no longer. After reading many, many articles in The New York Times and other publications (in print, obviously), Grandma decided that the time had come for an iPad. The iPad would be easy for her to use, and would allow her to access the mysterious world of “The Internet.” When it finally arrived, I told my grandmother about another mysterious world that existed within her tablet: iTunes. iTunes, I explained, would let her choose and store her favorite music on her iPad. Her reaction was, to borrow a cliché, priceless. “Why would I want music?” she wondered.
Needless to say, Grandma’s response is pretty uncommon amongst consumers. Thanks to such devices as portable CD players, mp3 players, iPods, iPhones, iPads, and other smartphones and tablets, music has become a ubiquitous feature of our society. It is rare to take a bus ride or travel on the subway without being surrounded by people in headphones. It is rare to walk down the street without seeing people bopping along to the music in their heads. People increasingly listen to music everywhere they go, whether driving in their cars, studying in libraries, or shopping in the supermarket. Any period which requires patience (like waiting in the doctor’s office or in line) is incomplete without music. And, as a result, music is virtually everywhere. It’s become universally popular to listen to music, and everyone seems to have a favorite song or artist. Everyone, regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, religion, beliefs, gender, and social class has a type of music that appeals to them. And chances are that they’re listening to it all the time.
Music used to be far more sacred than it is today. Until 18th century England, musicians depended on court patronage. They performed for royalty, and were sustained by rulers. German- British composer George Frideric Handel pioneered ‘popular’ music. Thanks to his influence, public concerts and opera performances became frequent in the 1700’s in England and later spread throughout Europe. Along with this came music clubs and a growth of public support and appreciation for music, which allowed composers to be liberated from court patronage. Different cultures brought different types of music, and music evolved and grew and changed to eventually become the diverse, popular medium that it is today.
Photography, too, has reached a renaissance in the 21st century, with every smartphone owner fashioning himself an amateur photographer and popular apps and social media outlets like Instagram transforming such photos into veritable works of art. Yet the same popularity cannot be said of painting and drawing apps. Granted, they may honestly be inferior. But I don’t know anyone who takes out his or her phone to make a quick sketch instead of robotically playing Candy Crush. I don’t know anyone who instinctively whips out his or her device to draw pretty scenery or recreate something inspirational the same way he or she would automatically take a photo. I don’t know anyone who would rather occupy him or herself with looking at pictures of famous paintings rather than listening to Beyoncé.
In my mind, the void of visual arts in the technology sector reflects a larger decline of public appreciation of this medium. While music and photography have managed to pervade and infiltrate every realm of our lives, visual arts, like painting and sculpture, have not left their lofty homes in museums. In two trips to well-known art museums in the past week, I can report that they were visibly less full than they might be. Of those visiting, teenagers and twenty-somethings were by far the exception, overshadowed drastically by elderly couples and families with young, unhappy children. Museum guards stood at attention in every gallery, casting furtive glances at visitors and pouncing upon those who dared cross the invisible threshold in front of each work. For many, paintings and sculpture become both emotionally and physically inaccessible. And as a result, visual arts are becoming extinct. And understandably so.
Research on characteristics of millennials found that our generation is “obsessed with technology, social media, and design,” and that we have an “insatiable techie hunger.” It’s also been suggested that we “seek immediate gratification.” All of these attributes can be directly linked to the advance of the internet and the development of smartphones. While music has managed to keep up and remain constant, painting and sculpture have not been able to adapt to the new needs and desires of our generation. Going to look at art is a process. It’s not instantaneous, and it cannot be considered high-tech. Painting and sculpture are old-fashioned, traditional forms of expression that reflects a more genteel, leisurely time. And thus, the thought of going to a museum to look at art (or even drawing or having artwork on one’s phone) is totally foreign to most of us.
What’s to be done? Ideally, an iArt to go along with iTunes should be introduced. Just as with music one can hear live concerts or listen to high quality music on their personal devices, one should be able to look at art in museums or download high-quality images of artwork to keep on their phones. Art can encompass a wide variety of styles and appeal to personal tastes, just as music does. People could share art pieces with friends and have favorite artists and favorite works, and create their own art to sell on iArt. Yet I know that this is unrealistic. For any advance in the popularization of artwork, we must first come to appreciate art. We must force ourselves to put some effort into this occupation by going to museums, to art galleries, to studios. We must support artists and attempt to produce our very own art, no matter the hardship and struggle. Not everything needs to be instantaneous and easy. Not everything needs to be high-tech and modern. We are at risk of losing something far more precious than we realize. Museums cannot sustain themselves, and neither can artists. The medium may eventually disappear entirely. In a way, perhaps we all are better off being a little bit more like my grandmother, going back to the old-fashioned ways of a bygone era. On our iPads.