Where Twin Cities
Checking In / A Note from the Editor
Where Twin Cities, November 2005
What is Art?
The other day some colleagues and I began talking about the music and bands that we enjoyed during younger days. Our conversation had that fun, â€œback in the dayâ€ vibe that as college students we always swore weâ€™d avoid after graduation. I mean, how can you stay current if you begin to wax nostalgic for â€œremember-themâ€ music thatâ€™s come and gone? Nevertheless, there we were, turning into our parents.
Although many in our Gen X group didnâ€™t grow up in Minnesota, we suddenly realized how many of our college rock favorites got their start in the Twin Cities: HÃ¼sker DÃ¼, Soul Asylum, and Semisonic to name a few. While many of the bands are no longer around, they set the tone for much of the music that would follow. Our discussion widened. What makes a city suddenly produce a â€œsoundâ€ be it 1980s Minneapolis, or Seattleâ€™s grunge of the early 1990s? What cultural elements must be present to incubate any art, such as music, literature, painting or theater?
When defining a place in time, clearly any cultural examination includes its artwork. For example, textiles, ceramics and bronzes from the Minneapolis Institute of Artâ€™s extensive Chinese collection tell us much about how people viewed the world during the late Ming Dynastyâ€”just as, say, American rock music reveals the turbulent 1960s. In a book I just read titled What is Art For? Independent scholar Ellen Dissanayake examines what is necessary in order â€œto call art a universal human endowment.â€ Using academic metrics like biology, anthropology and psychology, she incorporates the wide-ranging â€œusesâ€ of artâ€”be they purely aesthetic, personal or communalâ€”into a wider view of how art actually functions in a society.
Perhaps Dissanayake’s definition may explain why the Twin Cities continues to foster its local arts. Our cities’ residents are continuously open to new artistic expressions, whether itâ€™s theater, literature or even rock music. Our art institutions thrive, working to reveal the human condition from varied points of view.
This month Where highlights some of these artistic expressionsâ€” from paintings depicting the experiences of homelessness, to Pucciniâ€™s world-class opera of deadly intrigue, Tosca. Itâ€™s all art. We also highlight another so-called â€œinstitutionâ€ called The Electric Fetus, a record store that has endured since its origin in 1968, when it helped feed the psychedelic cultural revolution of a generation ago.
â€œTrue science studies and introduces into human consciousness the truths and the knowledge which are regarded as important by the people of a certain period and society,â€ wrote Tolstoy. â€œArt transfers these truths from the realm of knowledge to the realm of feeling … that is, the general understanding among people of that time and society of the purpose of their life.â€ I think he got it right. As for me and my office mates, our conversation is ongoing.
By the way, recently on my way home from work I heard a great Replacements song on the Twin Citiesâ€™ newly created public radio music station aimed at a younger demographic. The stationâ€™s name? The Current.
â€“ JOEL SCHETTLER, MANAGING EDITOR