Tag Archives: culture

The Texts of a New Generation









With a gentle nod to the advertising of the 80s and 90s in the title of this post I want to explore the idea that during your formative years, especially teens to early 20s, what you consume in terms of culture (music, film, tv, magazines etc) shapes your decision making processes and actions.

It was sparked by a story I read where the music and lyrics of the 70s, in particular Pink Floyd, David Bowie and the Ramones, shaped the zeitgeist of the culture and in turn shaped the decision making and perspective of the main character to the point when he had reached his late 30s that it was almost too late.

This sparked a brief twitter mind dump, collated here for your perusal, about what I watched, listened to, and consumed in my youth, that of the late 80s and early 90s. This in turn made me wonder what my girls (aged 10 and 8) are watching and listening to, and will be watching and listening to (right now my wife and I have influence and decision making over what they watch and listen to but in the years to come they will develop autonomy for their consumption of culture). 





I am a child of the 80s and 90s, the last of Generation X. I grew up listening to thrash and speed metal, hard rock, U2. I watched Friends, Mad About You, early Simpsons, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Seinfeld, X-Files, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Terminator 2 and much more.

These are the cultural products I consumed and in turn have shaped my thinking and decision making. The catch cry of that period was a balance between Gordon Gecko’s mantra, “Greed is good” and the turbulent introspective narcissism of grunge, the highlighting of the individual as greater than the whole and you don’t need nothing but a good time (hair metal of the 80s/90s was priceless).

Where does that leave us now, in the throes of middle age, with children and a mortgage, and perhaps a sense of disillusionment? Have the promises of our youth been fulfilled or is it still a romantic notion that will never be? 

Every cultural touchstone has a family tree, a connection to the past from where it developed its departure point. We wouldn’t have South Park, Family Guy or American Dad if it wasn’t for The Simpsons. 

I see my students consuming the pop of Katy Perry, Rihanna, Kanye; the sexual mores of Sex and The City, Girls, Modern Family. Where will they be in their middle age after feasting on the values of modern pop culture?

Again, I’m not positing a particular point of view or have any clear answers (although there are no doubt cultural commentators and sociologists who study this and have better knowledge; I’m merely brainstorming).

Here’s the takeaway: be a critical consumer; think about the attitudes and values a text is communicating. Do you agree with it or not?

And for creative people, what does that mean for us in terms of what we create?

  • Are we supporting or subverting current values, attitudes and mores?
  • Are we condemning, critiquing or questioning the focus of our culture?
  • Are we aiming to improve or develop our culture, because, yes, art/film/literature has a point.
  • Are we creating for the present or for the future? This is an important question as I think our answers encompass both. We create for the now, a reflection on the where we are at with our thinking, and for the future as a marker of what we wish to become as artists.

No answers. More questions. A starting point for a conversation. Have at it in the comments. 

Cuts To Arts Funding

In the recent Government Budget here in Australia, there is a controversy about the allocation of funds to an independent body, The Australian Council For The Arts. Part of the money, approximately 20%, is being taken and given to a new government body, controlled by the Minister for the Arts. Over the next four years, the money given to the arts is also being cut back.

It has raised the ire of arts bodies and artists, and rightly so; government controlled arts funding is akin to propaganda.

I am not a recipient of an arts grant, nor have I been one in the past. I may apply for one in the future.

In times of economic stress, the arts are one of the first to be cut back. 

I think for a lot of tax payers, the idea of paying for artistic people to paint, sculpt, develop plays, musicals or operas, is throwing money into a big dark hole to be buried forever and seeing no return on investment. I’ve seen in the mainstream media, editorials decrying the ‘waste of money’ given to a public piece of art. 

Art is seen as subsidiary to earning an income as opposed to seeing art as a way to earn an income. I see it in attitudes towards music, art, woodwork and the like. It is not seen as a serious career choice. At its best it is a hobby, a crafty interest, a sideline pursuit, something done on weekends or once a weeknight.

I want my taxes to be made available for public services: roads, education, health and hospitals, public transport AND the arts.

What I think needs to happen is for the conversation to be on the role and purpose of the arts in our society. People consume art: film, music, books as the basics but are not aware of the time and effort required to create it. 

We need to have the conversation about the value of art, what it contributes to society and culture, not just in monetary terms, but also in terms of its spirituality, ethos, mentally and emotionally. 

We need to have the conversation to demonstrate the need for the arts to be understood as an integral aspect of our society.

The arts are not a respite for those with mental or physical disabilities. Nor are the arts the domain of the ‘tortured artist.’ The arts are the domain of all; we should all be creating, all contributing, while allowing for those who want to pursue it as a career to make that choice freely and boldly.

We need to have this conversation for art’s sake.

Eat Your Heroes

After my post on Tuesday, Is Comparison Killing Your Creativity? a good friend of mine, Deane, sent me a lengthy response.

I have his permission to reproduce it here because it dovetails nicely with Tuesday’s post.

Deane has been a creative inspiration to me, even before I applied myself to writing, music and teaching. He’s the kind of guy whose artistic vision and creative endeavours leaves you slavering for more. When he talks about the things he wants to do, intends to do, gets around to doing, you want to go there with him and see it all happen.

Tuesday’s post dealt with the danger of comparing yourself to others and how it kills your creativity. Deane discusses the effect of slavish devotion and imitation of your creative heroes. And it comes with a warning. 

Eat Your Heroes


Even the most ardent and individual creator needs input to learn, excel and eventually dominate their field. We all want to be like the giants of our chosen art form, and we read their books, blogs and imbibe their art as part of the process of learning to bring our own endeavours to life.

I recently read the first chapter of a book created by a personal inspiration: photographer Gregory Heisler. The book delves more into the mind-set rather than the technical approach of a man who has shot more than 70 Time Magazine covers.

I have wanted to expand my photography. I have one light. I have one short lens. The only thing smaller would be a body cap with a hole drilled in it as a pinhole camera. I usually have 5 minutes or less to craft a portrait that is intended for a wall sized print.

But in the first few pages, the master suggests that he too wished that he had more than 5 minutes to take a picture. He emoted his desire to just travel with one light. His description of the need to keep a certain distance (not to close, not to far) suggested I had the perfect lens.

I was looking for the magic beans, the formula. Perhaps, dare I utter the words, a reproducible technique?

Heisler said in a recent interview, “You can learn a technique, but the first time you get in a situation where it doesn’t work, you’re done.”

As artists, we look up to the pantheon of heroes who have gone before us. Prize winners. Gallery wall limpets. Best sellers. Icons of cool.

We wonder if we need to have the same tools. Perhaps a Moleskine, or a Mont Blanc. An original Les Paul or a Steinway. Leica or Hasselblad.

When we grow up, or at least reach the understanding some tools are too expensive for mere noob mortals, we try and ape technique.

Portraiture is based on trust.

Everyone who has every written about Mr Heisler mentions how he gains the trust of his subjects – forging a quick but mutually respectful relationship. To him, trust outweighs any equipment, because his photos depend on a connection with the person (not merely a talking meat puppet) he is engaged with.

That’s who I need to become in order to approach that level of work in my field. That’s character, not technique. You don’t learn character in an ‘Idiot’s Guide to Legendary Artistic Achievement.’

I am all for learning the basics – and certainly practicing till your fingers or your neighbour’s ears bleed. But art is not a mechanical achievement. The mechanics are necessary, but they don’t put words in your head, a song in your heart or an image in your eye.

You must learn the heart of those who have gone before you. You must partake of their motives, their emotion and their reason. This is why you must choose your inspirations carefully.

Better to choose Christopher Nolan (Inception) than Lloyd Kauffman (The Toxic Avenger).

When selecting a role model, look at who they are – because that’s the direction your life is headed for at least the next few months or years. It’s who they are, their character, that truly informs their art.

This means you are free to be inspired by many people outside the narrow confines of your niche or genre. You can revel in the creativity of a wide range of very original individuals – and you (and your speciality) will be richer for it.

You are what you eat – and you will consume your role models. You will forage the interwebs for every morsel from their mouths and every project they every let loose in the public domain.

When you are ready to learn from a master, take a good long look at who they are and ask yourself: would I put that in my mouth?

Deane Patterson is a portrait photographer and sometimes composer and filmmaker living in rural New Zealand.

Visit him at http://itellstories.co.nz/

Find his work on flickr and National Geographic Your Shot.

What Does A Writer Do?

After reading a blog post by Zena Shapter “The Age of What?” I began thinking about the cultural and social trends that are currently in play in our society.
We focus on the individual but protest the rise of the few who have against the most who do not. We shun a belief system focused on one set of values because we like to wander the Supermarket of Life and pick and choose the values and beliefs that pertain to me, but not you.
This is the Age of Caffeinated Globalisation with a side order of fries and a cappuccino.
This is the Age of Meh.
This is the Age of Me.
Millions of words will have been written about current political and social events in the form of media, political commentary, blogs and conversations at the pub. Writing is an integral part of our cultural communication. However, the use of narrative, story and parable takes a little longer to permeate the collective mindset.
Writing is a part of the cultural tableau as is music, film, art and dance. So, what role do writers/authors/playwrights/poets play in our society?
I think writers have been the vanguard, the forefront, the middle of the pack and bringing up the rear when it comes to cultural trends and movements. We critique, comment, lament, poke fun, entertain, challenge, educate, satirise, all in the guise of narrative and parable.
What do I want to do as a writer? I write what can be best described as “suburban realism.” I look at the everyday and find an angle to explore.
I threw these ideas up on twitter as starting points for my thinking:
  • Writing involves holding a mirror up to the reader to reflect on themselves. Then you shatter the image.
  • Writing involves rearranging the reader’s mind so they see the world how you see it, even just for a little while.
The pen is mightier than the sword if wielded effectively.
What do you think writers should do? What is your aim as a writer?