Throughout my tenure as a writer, editor and now columnist for the Arts & Entertainment section, my favorite tradition has remained the end-of-year lists we publish, in which we lowly critics gerrymander and jockey our favorite albums, films and TV shows for a shot at proving that our opinions are objectively correct and yours are wrong. We do this on the assumption that you care about the art about which we spend the year opining; that our recommendations and ratings may encourage you to see a play or listen to a track that you may have otherwise ignored; that, somehow, we are enriching the arts on campus and providing a necessary service to the reader. The critic’s dream. But if there is anything I have learned since coming to Cornell, it’s that you don’t care.
Don’t feel bad. Turns out nobody does.
I — wishfully, probably douche-fully— consider myself a jack-of-all-arts, equally knowledgeable in television, film, theatre and video games. My Achilles Heel is pop music; always has been, always will be. But I try my best to familiarize myself with the groovy tunes the youngsters like these days. I do so because I believe (know) that life lived in the absence of art is no life. You cannot truly understand beauty until you hear the opening bars of “Claire de Lune” or you watch the three-minute tracking shot from Goodfellas or you gaze at “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” They make you feel the things that you can’t get from a textbook or a fantasy football team. And who among us can honestly say they do not want to surround themselves with beauty and love. If you aren’t actively seeking diverse, artistic experiences on a daily basis, are you even alive?
Imagine my surprise when I learned that hardly any of our writers had seen ten movies this entire year, let alone enough to make a best-of list. In the words of an editor, “a straight mess.” Truer words have never been spoken. Heck, when it came to listing albums, I wrote the Hamilton cast recording ten times (an accurate list, but problematic nonetheless). I care dearly for my cultural compatriots at the Sun and do not wish to shame anyone, but I fear for our future. Not merely our future, but the future of art at Cornell and beyond.
The Arts and Entertainment section has always been troubled by the breadth its coverage. That’s the double-edged sword of allowing writers to pick their own stories. They will cover what they like and, more unsettling, what they know. We are all guilty of this. Two years ago, every other article was a film review. We were inundated with aspiring Roger Eberts and Richard Ropers. On my first day editing, we published side-by-side reviews of Her. It was one of the darkest moments of my college career. Nobody cares that much about Her.
Today, we experience a similar blight. If music be the food of love, the Arts & Entertainment section may be morbidly obese. I greatly admire our current music writers — the work they turn in is consistently some of the best I’ve read in our section, period — but at times it feels as if our only real interests, as a section, lie there. As the most visible forum for the discussion of arts on campus, we have an obligation to represent and encourage the appreciation of all arts, even those outside of what we already know and enjoy. We have failed our obligation.
I am reminded of the recent events surrounding Cornell Cinema and the Student Assembly, when the appropriations committee recommended that the theater not receive a funding increase based on low attendance. Having attended many screenings at Cornell Cinema, I can attest to this. And yet, suddenly a “Save Cornell Cinema” Facebook event appeared and concerned students flooded SA meetings and voiced their opinions and the day was saved. But can you blame the SA? Where were we when Cornell Cinema brought countless filmmakers and great movies to campus? Not in those seats. It’s not a case of wanting our cake and eating it, too; it’s a case of wanting our cake and then ignoring it because, although we would like to eat it, we have to study for a prelim tomorrow and I’m just really tired and my friends are going out to Dunbar’s and maybe next week. Definitely next week.
We don’t make time for art anymore. There’s no urgency for beauty. We make time for parties and studying and homework and networking and for, what, cheap thrills and the guarantee that your starting salary will be higher than that of your peers? We prostitute our free time, our summers and winters and weekends to unpaid internships and job fairs and things that don’t matter on the promise that if we buckle down now, we’ll enjoy leisure time later. We belittle students that devote their college careers to the pursuit of the arts because we wish we had that luxury, to actually enjoy our studies and not secretly loathe ourselves, but we do. We go to Cornell, one of the greatest institutions of learning in the entire world, and all we are encouraged to learn is the rhythm of the corporate circlejerk, counting down the weeks until we get our framed career permission slip and start our “real” lives. But what of culture? What of art? What of happiness?
We live in Ithaca, one of the greatest centers of art in New York, a never-ending fount of culture at our fingertips just under the surface — Cornell Cinema, Cinemapolis, The Haunt, The State Theatre, The Kitchen Theatre, the Hangar Theatre, Risley Theatre, the Schwartz Center, The Johnson Museum, to name a few — but chances are you’ll never allow yourself to experience all of these wondrous places. Do not throw away your shot.
I’m pleading with you: Make time for art. Skip class. Read a book outside of class. Binge watch a random show you’ve never heard of. Go to Cinemapolis and pick a movie to watch based on its poster. Listen through your Discover Weekly playlist and don’t skip anything. I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” We’ll all be better for it.
Sean Doolittle is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pulp FictSean runs alternate Mondays this semester.