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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, “back in the day” vibe that as college students we always swore we’d avoid after graduation. I mean, how can you stay current if you begin to wax nostalgic for “remember-them” music that’s come and gone? Nevertheless, there we were, turning into our parents.

Although many in our Gen X group didn’t grow up in Minnesota, we suddenly realized how many of our college rock favorites got their start in the Twin Cities: Hüsker Dü, 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 “sound” be it 1980s Minneapolis, or Seattle’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 Art’s extensive Chinese collection tell us much about how people viewed the world during the late Ming Dynasty—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 “to call art a universal human endowment.” Using academic metrics like biology, anthropology and psychology, she incorporates the wide-ranging “uses” of art—be they purely aesthetic, personal or communal—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 it’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 expressions— from paintings depicting the experiences of homelessness, to Puccini’s world-class opera of deadly intrigue, Tosca. It’s all art. We also highlight another so-called “institution” 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.

“True 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,” wrote Tolstoy. “Art 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.” 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 Cities’ newly created public radio music station aimed at a younger demographic. The station’s name? The Current.

– JOEL SCHETTLER, MANAGING EDITOR