Cockefair Lecture series speaker challenges pop culture
The question of “Does American Culture Have a Future?” was the subject of Terry Teachout’s lecture last Monday at Pierson Auditorium.
For Teachout, a former Kansas City Star reporter turned-art critic and book writer, who lectured at Pierson Auditorium, a “yes” answer may seem optimistic.
The lecture focused on the decline of the refined arts in American culture.
Teachout was introduced by Alan McDermont, who emphasized the Cockefair Lecture Series’ efforts to promote the arts and education.
The key emphasis was on the decline of America’s artistic culture, he said.
Teachout is a native of Missouri, born in 1956 in Sikeston. He spoke about his early exposure to “refined” arts in the small town where he grew up.
He voiced his concern about people preferring video games to novels, and how classical music is being neglected.
Being a journalist, he emphasized that anecdotal evidence needs to be treated with skepticism. He said that National Endowment for the Humanities surveys since 1982 showed a marked decline in terms of attendance of the fine arts in the U.S. He spoke further about cultural decline, emphasizing that the arts used to be covered by Time and Life on a frequent basis, but no longer receive such coverage.
Throughout the lecture, Teachout was a fierce critic of modern mass consumption. He said he didn’t like the thought of growing into the thousands of more and more TV channels. It brings to mind a Fahrenheit 451-like world, where citizens are glued to their TV screens.
Put simply, he feared that “something went badly wrong with modernism,” and briefly critiqued the role of postmodernism in American culture as well. He was also critical of shows like “America’s Got Talent,” in that such shows were too mainstream.
He encouraged the audience to focus on the beauty of art again, as unspecific as that might sound. He was concerned about a mentality that only wants more money for its own ends.
However, America has weathered cultural media changes before. Famous composer John Phillip Sousa testified before Congress that “talking machines” would ruin the arts in America.
Teachout lamented the decline of live performances, especially in terms of the theater. While live theater is being shoved out of the American mainstream, Teachout said that high art will always matter in terms of overall civilization.
He ended the speech saying he couldn’t emphasize enough how important high art was, and that it is good in and of itself. “That’s why I became a critic,” he said.