Last week there was a tremendous amount of discussion about our youth, the arts and their lack of appreciation for quality. Many opinions were freely shared on social media but we were particularly struck by Craig Hildebrand-Burke’s ‘Toss Bricks at Gen Y and you miss the bigger picture‘ comment on the importance of being open to change and the value in all art.
What do we think?
Let’s hear from the Centre for Youth Literature’s manager, Anna Burkey.
So said UK artist David Shrigley, in a video made in support of the arts during dire financial times. His animated short is a powerful summary of the necessary roles the arts play in society in any age, and for any age.
Today’s young people are expressing themselves across boundaries, confidently defining their own social structures. Book clubs conducted via photography, music made across Skype, politics examined through YouTube comedy sketches – these new expressions may last or fade but each experiment is a chance to catch the eye of those around them and think ‘yes – this is who we are. We understand each other.’
When the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) noted that the upcoming generation of HSC drama students had no recent monologues to read, they took action, commissioning the Fresh Ink series. The resultant pieces, by young writers and for young actors, are astonishing in the beauty and depth they reflect. The fresh voices sing strongly and our young actors now have the choice to reflect a past society, or portray their own contemporary Australian context.
Actively entering the traditional world of the cultural establishment is a trickier task. With each social shift what was permissible can become taboo; what was unthinkable becomes mainstream. Shakespeare’s ribald jokes lose the easy laughter they had for the one-penny playhouse; Austen’s 18th century family scandals no longer shock. We must prepare for the fact that our accepted treasures will be questioned and that the social and institutional structures that have grown around them are barriers to new audiences. The formal etiquette of the concert hall can be forbidding or confusing, and even libraries can be frightening to enter. We need to ensure that our young audiences, their opinions and the methods they use to express themselves, are welcome and respected in these spaces. Australian Arts organisations such as the Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria, and Express Media, faciliate and champions the voices of young people, through their programmes, events, and online spaces such as insideadog.com.au.
The digital tools available to the so-called Generation Y are freely accessed, easy to use and simple to distribute. It is these trends, rather than the tools, that we must respond to – the desire to create and share a point of view without an authorising structure. If we can accept this need, and enter into conversation with our young audiences, then we can share art and stories that relate to each of us. The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, an Emmy-winning adaptation of Pride & Prejudice told via weekly web episodes, has connected tens of thousands of new teenage fans with a classic author. Many of them had never heard of the book, but the excellent translation to the recognisable world of 21st century America bridged the divide, while giving fans of the original new dimensions and subtleties to consider. Just as the daily newspaper gave Dickens a regular outlet for his social satires, so has the internet enabled the popular return of the serial story.
As we remix our culture, we remove barriers. We play, connect with others, come across stories and perspectives new to us. We shine. We are not alone.
The arts – high, low, populist, niche, contemporary or classic – should represent the freedom to explore, regardless of age, ethnicity, economic-background, gender, sexuality or century. In restricting access and defining what is worthy, we weaken ourselves at a time when we must be vocal in tackling inequality and illiteracy. Over one third of Australian teenagers face literacy challenges, and 14% of Australian students do not have the reading skills required to participate in the 21st century workforce . The Centre for Youth Literature acknowledges the importance of teens being taught the skills for reading, and being inspired to read. If we do not recognise the needs and the disparity before us, and provide the next generation with access, support and validation, we will all be diminished. Today’s young people deserve better from us.
- Hey teacher, leave us kids alone – Jack Cleland, The Vine
- High culture, elitism and cultural decline – Counting Letters
- Arrogant snobs deny others their art – Hugh Crosthwaite, The Age
- In defence of…well, really quite a few things – a dead man’s Dickens
- Hey Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone – Emily Day, WA Today