Monday 1 August 2016

Intelligence and Pop Culture - Never the Twain Shall Meet?

I am slightly, greatly disturbed by the state of arts education in my country. And I'm sad to say that having worked before in the department that oversees arts education in schools, perhaps I am partly to blame for it! But I've realised since that the streaming that takes place in schools especially at the secondary and higher levels, doesn't do justice to the important role that the arts play in our daily life. 

After all, there's music and visuals/video everywhere we go, both in the physical and cyber worlds. Design and aesthetics also impact every area of our lives, from furnishings to buildings and practically every piece of tool or gadget that passes through our hands. So why is it that when it comes to academics in school, the focus and emphasis rests heavily on the technical subjects? Why do we keep pushing the bright students to study these supposedly more important subjects and even discourage some who are obviously artistically talented from taking up the arts, in particular modern and popular arts?

Of course, I'm not denying that parents here do actively send their children to art, music and ballet classes from young. But these are mainly in the classical arts and many of these parents do so because of the edge it would give their children when applying for prestigious secondary schools. Ultimately, they would not encourage their children to pursue the arts as a career but merely as a hobby. Unless of course they discover a prodigy in the process and there's a chance that their child could make it as a world-class artiste. However, these are very few and far between.

To be fair though, the problem may not be peculiar to this nation. Otherwise, why would people in the West and in another Asian country be surprised and even shocked to find that celebrities in pop culture - actors, singers, musicians - have high IQs?
Somehow, talent in the pop world and intelligence aren't viewed as being compatible!

Yet, if we look closely at the list of intelligent celebrities, we will find quite a few of them who have truly excelled in their art, challenged stereotypes, pioneered new genres and actually stimulated their audience to think. So we really do need smart kids who can do great art, or else I shudder to think what we would be left with...

Now you may ask what brought on this rant. Well, one of my children who happens to be gifted (not sure what his IQ is but he is in the top 1% of his cohort and Mensa members are the top 2%) has said many times over many years that he wants to be a rock star. Not boasting here, but he certainly has the qualities to become one - musical talent, motivation, good looks, charisma. [Listen to his original music here.] Yet, I tried to persuade him to put this dream aside and work on getting a degree in a 'proper' subject first. But as I thought about why I was asking him to do that, I realised to my horror that the kind of thinking that's prevalent has become deeply ingrained in me!! So as I critique it while writing, I'm actually looking inward and trying to correct my own attitude towards popular arts and culture. Ultimately, if it is God's plan for him to make a positive influence in the world through rock music, who am I to stop it?

Now, whether my boy does actually become a rock star, that remains to be seen! ;)

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