Microdose #012: Expand your Appreciation for Culture
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front):
We are in the golden age of information availability, we are, as Issac Newton put it, standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. Yet, as we all have seen, it’s possible to get stuck, listening to the same music, watching the same TV shows, and enjoying the same types of books that we have since we were teenagers. Don’t allow the opportunity for enrichment to pass you by, but use the vast ocean of knowledge and culture available to elevate yourself.
In The Plan we’ll show you how to build a deeper appreciation for any form of art or culture.
Although we live in a world of almost limitless access to knowledge, day to day stresses, complications, and worries often crowd out time for new endeavors. While every day presents a new opportunity for growth, in order to actually take advantage of these opportunities we must prioritize personal growth and development, and explicitly make time for it. This can be challenging, but as the research shows, it’s worth our effort.
- Appreciating music and art comes with significant health benefits suggests trying several different kinds of music and paying attention to how your body physically reacts to them when choosing which music is right for relaxation.
- Some philosophers believe that unlike the sciences, which allow individuals to acquire propositional knowledge, art appreciation is capable of deepening our existing knowledge in terms of “understanding.” Art, in particular narrative art, allows us to apply our moral knowledge and emotions to a specific case, aiding in the development of our capacity to manipulate, refine, or clarify what we know, and then to intelligibly apply that knowledge.
- New research is investigating the idea of wonder being the source of art appreciation.
Outside of the clinical research there is an intangible benefit to seeking greater refinement and culture in one’s life. These things help to lead us to self-actualization (fully realizing your personal potential beyond all physical needs).
Unlike some of the other microdoses, which are specific and tactical, this plan provides a general framework which can be applied to any cultural endeavor. We here at Grüner believe that building appreciation for art and culture is among the greatest joys and challenges that life can bring, enriching both your life and those with whom you choose to share it. Here is our guide to expanding your interests, trying something fresh, and deepening your appreciation for culture. All of these steps require you to embrace the role of a learner, someone who, without judgement or ego, is here to increase their understanding.
Choose a domain. When it comes to art and culture, the options are wide and diverse. Finding a good starting point might seem like a daunting task. Our suggestion is to imagine a person who you would describe as cultured, worldly, or erudite. What are that person’s interests? Imagine a cocktail party where a lively debate is taking place. What is that debate about? Lean into something that will elevate the vision you have of yourself. Just as a bodybuilder would look up to someone who has a great physique, who do you look up to as an aspirational image, and what is their intellectual “workout regimen?” Do not be afraid to lean into existing interests or to try something completely foreign. Here are some of the things that we at Grüner started to appreciate as adults:
- Fine Art
- Wine Tasting
- Cultural Exploration through Food
- Classical Music/Opera
- Theater/Performing Arts
- Social Commentary
- Collection Building (watches, coins, cars, books)
Determine what you like. This is the exposure phase, where you completely lean into the new fascination. This is when you go to the museum, try different types of wine, listen to all the operas you can get your hands on, eat at all the restaurants that feature the cuisine you are now exploring. The purpose of this phase is to understand the scope of what you’re exploring and to determine which parts of it are most appealing to you, even if you can’t yet define why. If someone experimenting with different genres of music decided opera wasn’t for them, but Mississippi Delta Blues was, they now have a jumping off point. By narrowing your scope, you can begin to develop expertise and a point of view. Learning the history and tasting notes of every type of wine is impossible, but understanding one varietal will be far less intimidating and way more accessible. This step should be non-judgemental and free from preconceptions. Whatever you might have thought about blues music or wine, you have found something that you enjoy, embrace that.
Understand the Context. Most people stop at determining what they like. We suggest that you dig deeper, to understand the deeper context around your new interest. This step can begin with something as simple as a Google search. Some things to search for might be, the year that a particular piece of art was made, the world conditions under which it was produced, whether or not the piece was popular, or critically acclaimed, when it was debuted, and has perception of the piece changed since then. With the quickest of Google searches, you can find out that Rothko, the much disputed artist, was considered to be of the school of Abstract Expressionism. The cultural and social impacts of the horrors brought about by World War II are a direct link in the evolution of this school of art and Rothko’s paintings. This small bit of context can bring life and meaning to a piece of art (like Rothko’s Untitled 1953) which otherwise you might have just thought was orange, purple, and black on a canvas.
Compare/contrast/critique. Bloom’s Taxonomy gives us a framework for describing the various levels of learning. Among the highest levels of comprehension on a topic are the abilities to analyze and evaluate. Applying this to art and culture, an invaluable step in appreciation is the ability to critique and compare two pieces of content intelligently. This does not require complete understanding of the subject matter, but rather a humble desire to understand the variations, good, bad, or indifferent, between two things. Knowing what you like is one thing, but being able to articulate why you like it and why it is a good piece of art in the grander context is quite another. A good way to build this skill is to read the criticism written by experts in the field. When coming to this step, it’s important to remember that art is inherently subjective, so while we encourage flexing your critical muscles, try to avoid becoming too rigid in your opinions. There’s nothing noble in looking down on others for their subjective tastes.
Challenge yourself. Now that you have refined what you like to something fairly specific, it is a good time for a bit of reflection. Moving back to steps one and two, try to remember the things that you ruled out. The things that were not your cup of tea. Ones that perhaps made you say “how could anyone enjoy this?” There is a famous sentiment that follows abstract art: my kid could’ve painted that. Now, whether or not that is true (https://www.wsj.com/articles/could-your-child-really-paint-that-1539959482), the abstract movement is nonetheless important. This step is all about challenging yourself, is it possible for you to appreciate something that you presently don’t understand? Can you seek out someone (an expert perhaps) who really enjoys that style and take them on as a mentor in understanding it?
Engage. Of all the steps on this list, this might be the most intimidating. In this step you will engage with the community surrounding your newfound interest. This can take a number of different forms based on what you have chosen in steps one and two. Many museums, opera houses, and theaters host young patrons programs for those under 39 (only in the world of museums do you still get to be called young at 39), which, in addition to membership, allow you to attend galas and special events with other cultural appreciators. Depending on where you live, wine clubs/vineyards, poetry readings, and live jazz might be easier to find than you think. Here are some examples of events and programs in New York City:
- Young Fellow (The Frick Collection)https://www.frick.org/support/membership/levels_benefits
- The Met Apollo Circle (Metropolitan Museum of Art)https://engage.metmuseum.org/members/members-count/?promocode=45933
- Young Garden Circle (New York Botanical Garden)https://www.nybg.org/join-support/young-garden-circle/
- Young Patrons Circle (New York City Ballet)https://www.nycballet.com/support/become-a-member/young-patrons-circle/
- New York City Poetry Festival https://www.newyorkcitypoetryfestival.com
Some useful guides on hosting DIY cultural events:
- Host a Private Wine Tasting https://www.sommeliercompany.com/how-to-host-a-wine-tasting-event-checklist
- Host a Not-Boring Book Club https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/book-clubs/getting-started/
- Attend a Salon https://m.fourseasons.com/magazine/rejuvenate/salons-around-the-world/
- How to Host a Salon at Home https://www.veranda.com/luxury-lifestyle/entertaining/a37078833/salon-entertaining/
Alex - I am a naturally curious person, so my favorite step on the journey toward learning something new is understanding the context. If I am going to be critical of myself, I would say that sometimes I get stuck at this step indefinitely for certain things. I find that the richness and availability of interesting information never ends, and learning something new everyday is very important to me. Propelling myself forward into the critique stage has been a fun challenge!
Frank - Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to be considered cultured, to understand things like art and classical music, and to be able to speak intelligently about them in mixed company. While I have only just cracked the surface of most of my cultural endeavors, I’ve found the journey to be extremely rewarding. My biggest tip is to spend more time at museums, and to change the way you interact with the exhibits. I tend to move fast through the collections, taking in the whole scene, on the lookout for emotional reactions. That’s my radar. Once I feel an emotional response, I’ll sit with that particular piece for a while, exploring my reaction to it. Only then will I read the plaque and understand the context behind it. This exercise helps me to develop my own point of view, then expand upon it.