Who Decides the Culture of Our Time? Us or Future Generations?

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What is culture? Well, it’s complicated. We seem to have cultures within cultures, within cultures, and it only seems to be getting more complex and difficult to define. To my understanding, it’s the art, music, food, aesthetic, values and beliefs of a particular group of people, at a particular time in history. Culture is not static, it is ever changing along with the people who are immersed in it. It is people that decide culture. They decide what changes and what doesn’t. What parts to keep and what parts to discard, and what new ideas to include. Culture tends to shift from one generation to the next as each group of youth challenges the ideas and values of their Parent’s generation. Let’s also not ignore how our history has shown us our potential for self proclaimed superiority over another culture. An people of one culture may all but eradicate the culture of another in order to grow their own, in the name of righteousness, or progress. People have done horrific things in the name of expanding their beliefs and way of life. Culture continues to adapt over time, whether we cling to the past or not. To be cultured is to be enlightened, educated and knowledgable about the time in which we live. When we describe someone as cultured we often mean they are refined, well educated and have good taste, whatever that is, from one moment to the next?

It is interesting to me that something that is clearly so deeply valued by people, is made up of components such as art, books and music that never seem to get the recognition, validation or support they require to sustain themselves. People fight to preserve and maintain art, books and music with fierce protectiveness. We put it in museums and libraries, display it in our homes and public buildings. We spend immense amounts of money keeping it safe. We talk about it, write about it and make documentary films about it. Yet, most of the people I know who are making art, music and writing books are are struggling for recognition and to make a living wage. Centuries and centuries of people creating the art, music and books that are the essence of the culture of the time in which they were created with little to no real appreciation or support while they were actually alive and creating. Why is this? And why does it still continue to happen today?

Well, the simple answer to my mind, is that people can’t seem to see past the end of their own noses, and hind-sight is 20/20. The more complicated answer is that art captures the essence of culture in a moment in time and nobody is fully aware of what precisely the culture is while they are living it. They are quite literally caught up in the moment and continual upheaval and evolution of culture and not aware of what will be significant to their cultural time until they look back and see it clearly portrayed through the great artistic minds of the time. Nobody knew Woodstock, just a three day music festival in a farmer’s field would become the climax of what would be later known as a defining moment in our history and significant cultural marker of the 1960’s. Many of the performers that played Woodstock, like Joe Cocker (Have a Little Help From My Friends) and Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young) (It was only their second time ever playing live), were barely known at the time and they were catapulted to stardom and cultural significance. What about all the creative minds who defined our cultural history? I would love to go back in time and ask Socrates, Mozart and Frida Kahlo about their life experience and whether or not they felt valued and supported by their community in their artistic endeavours? Books, documentaries and essays about their lives seem to suggest that no, they did not in fact get that support when they needed it. They struggled significantly and did not get the recognition they truly deserved until well after they were dead. They were not appreciated fully until they were gone. But yet, they still created because they were compelled to do so. Their work allowed them to process and understand the world around them and helped them make sense of living, even if they felt isolated and found it difficult to relate to the masses.

The truth is, that all art, music and writing is capturing the essence of culture as it is happening. It would be impossible not to. We are all living it and all trying to make sense of what is going on around us and within us, and the artistic community is often slightly removed from mainstream culture and being on the fringe tends to give one a better vantage point to see what is actually going on around them. We are a product of our time and the culture that exists at that time, and no matter when in history we are, culture is constantly in flux, so it can be very confusing and difficult to make sense of. Joan Didion, an American journalist and writer, famous for her writing in the 1960’s-70’s about cultural chaos and social fragmentation said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the music, art and writing of the 1960’s resonates so deeply with me as an artist and writer myself given all the cultural parallels to our current time. The cultural chaos that Joan Didion wrote about reflected a time of deep generational divide in values, major political upheaval, the threat of war, and ramped up racial discrimination and civil rights activism. Today we are facing all of the same issues in different packaging. In the 60’s women were burning their bras, today we attend the Women’s March and hashtag #timesup on social media in support of equal pay for women. The Black Panther Party was created in 1966 to protect African American citizens from police brutality, today we have the Black Lives Matter activist movement. In the 60’s, an entire generation challenged the status quo, railing against the rigid family structure and cultural values of the 1950s’, conservative, religious, hard-working middle class. They rejected old cultural structures, preferring freedom, less lifestyle restrictions, less materialism, and embraced eastern philosophy, spirituality and the recreational use of marijuana. Today, we have the millennial generation rejecting old political and social structures and values, fighting for a better quality of life with less emphasis on material gain, the ability to love who they want and define themselves as they wish. Again, eastern philosophy and spiritual practices are being embraced in an even bigger way and marijuana is back in popular culture with the use of CBD Oil (Cannabis Based Drug) on the rise in the medical industry and the legalization of Cannabis for medical use in the U.S. in 29 States already and Canada slated to legalize this year. The parallel’s between the 1960’s and today are uncanny. There are song lyrics and magazine articles written from that time in history that could easily have been written today.

Culture is continually changing and reflecting the social issues and values of the time, but I would argue that people have changed very little. While our world looks very different now in terms of infrastructure and population growth, and technology changing the world dramatically, the human condition is ticking along slowly like it somehow has not learned from itself at all. We are still walking around blind and reactionary to the shifting cultural values as they happen before our eyes and not valuing and supporting the artistic community that is capturing it as it happens until we look back years later and it’s often too late to support them. Joan Didion also wrote “In theory momentos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.” If you have ever read any of my previous writing, you’ll know that I am a big believer in self examination, personal evolution and intentional living. A big part of this is evaluating how much we have learned from our past and what we choose to do differently as a result. What if we didn’t wait for hind-sight to show us what is culturally relevant and what artists, musicians and writers we should have supported while they were giving all of themselves to their generation? What if we decided for ourselves what is relevant right now? What if we took the reins and intentionally voted with our dollars and our attention what we want to go down in history? What if we didn’t wait for our children and grandchildren to decide what was culturally relevant from our generation, but instead, we stood back, saw the bigger picture and realized the pattern that has shown us again and again that it’s the people challenging the status quo who define the culture of the time? Those fringe artists are right on the pulse of the cultural shift and the cusp of change is right there captured within their art for all to see. If they bother to look. What if we got on board early and supported that change instead of sitting back and watching where the pieces fall?

So, how do we do that? Well, we can start by acknowledging how important art, music and writing is to society! Show me a home that you would like to live in that has no books, music or art displayed? A home void of those things is a sad place indeed. You have an opinion and taste of your own. Don’t wait for the masses to decide for you what is good and culturally significant. Go watch local bands play and buy their music. Find them on Spotify, listen to them in your home and tell your friends about them. Check out a local market or festival and purchase art from artists and makers in your own city. Ask them about their work when you are face to face with them. Buy books directly from Author’s websites or their booth at conventions where they receive all of the money, not just a tiny percentage that they get when they sell at big book stores like Chapters. The people who are quite literally capturing and defining our current culture should be able to make a living wage and support themselves at the very least. They are doing good, important work for their community and I think it’s time we recognized it. Why do we need to continue to wait for future generations to decide for us what was culturally relevant during our generation? We have a role in history and we have the opportunity to spend our money on the things we want more of in our world and support the things we think are important. The painting you bought that’s a sanitized knock off of a knock off from Winners will have no cultural relevance or significance in history, but that little book you buy off of an Author’s table at a market could turn out to be the next great philosophical work of our time. That writer could be the Socrates of the the Twenty-first century, and you would have been part of that greatness for supporting it and making it possible for her to continue her work. That kid you watched play his guitar and sing at a little folk festival in a small town, could be the next Bob Dylan and his songs might go down in history as some of the most influetial words of the 2010’s. You never know, but at any given moment, you could be supporting an incredible mind and creative genius, and have a part to play in changing the world as we know it. At the very least, you will be woven into the cultural fabric of an important moment in human history, and I think that is more than worth your attention.

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Hustle & Bustle/Downriver House, 2016 by Bruno Canadien

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The Vessel by David Altmejd

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The Vessel by David Altmejd

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SHIELD, 2017 by Caroline Monnet

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Joey Senft

STYLING, HAIR & MAKEUP BY: Tara Cole-McCaffrey, Patron of Dreams

NEW FASHION: Black wool tam from The Haberdashery. Nude bodysuit by American Apparel. Fringe earrings made with salvaged materials by The Salvage Heart.

THRIFTED FASHION: Gold snake belt and wide leg checkered pants.

VINTAGE FASHION: Pink satin coat from Shop Take Care. Red embroidered shoes from Wildwoodrose and PJ Vintage.

LOCATION: Winnipeg Art Gallery, *INSURGENCE/RESURGENCE

*INSURGENCE/RESURGENCE brings together 29 emerging-to-established Indigenous artists who are pushing boundaries with their work. The collection considers political insurgency and cultural resurgence to radically shift our understanding of Canada, now and in the future. Working in a variety of media, the artists focus on Indigenous intergenerational cultural knowledge within land based practices, gender, traditional aesthetics, language revitalization, interconnected kinships, identity, and material culture. INSURGENCE/RESURGENCE is the WAG’s largest-ever exhibition of contemporary Indigenous art and includes 12 new commissions from artists across Canadian territories and nations. –Winnipeg Art Gallery Website

 

Warrior of Diversity

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“Human diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival.” –Rene Dubos

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”
John Lennon, Imagine

“Whatever you are physically…male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy–all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.”
Cassandra Clare

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It’s okay to be different.  It’s okay to be an individual.  It’s okay to be these things because there is no such thing as being completely the same as anyone else.  We all have similarities and things that we have in common with one another, but there are no two people on planet earth that are exactly the same.  Even identical twins have differences. We are, by nature of being human, very diverse. Each one of us is a complex combination of various traits.Yet, it seems deeply ingrained within humanity to attempt to categorize and label one another so that we know where each other fits within the puzzle of belonging. It tricks us into feeling safe and secure. I know who and what you are, therefore I know where I stand in relation to you.  Unfortunately, this always seems to result in an over simplification of one another and inevitably results in us deciding whether another human being belongs with us, or with them. We focus on the differences so emphatically which leads us to take sides, choose teams, we exclude, we ridicule and we reject, until we have separated ourselves from each other so efficiently, that we as people, loose the ability to see past the labels and categories to the essence of sameness that lies underneath.  The sameness, that is ultimately, our individuality and difference.  It’s a conundrum.  We are all different from each other in some way, yet our focusing on the differences instead of the similarities is what divides us and leads to separation at best and hate towards each other at worst.

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Let’s look at the past. If we look back throughout history to the beginning of humanity, we can see a pattern. People began living within small groups or communities with a basic set of rules and values that everyone agreed on and followed, until an individual had a different idea or opinion.  This created conflict within the group if one person, or a few people were not willing to conform.  Often, this led to that individual or individuals, being rejected by the community and they became outcasts.  Quite literally, they were kicked out, or they left of their own volition.  If their ideas were so different that no one agreed with them and went with them, they would often parish, and their ideas would parish along with them. If a few people agreed with them and were brave enough to leave the larger group, this led to the development of another separate community that represented new ideas.  This pattern has repeated over and over and over and created a diverse human civilization. When we look back at history, we can clearly see that the world is not the same as it was in the 1800’s, 1930’s, 1960’s, 1990’s, etc.  Every new generation has new ideas, new values and new dreams about how they want to the world to be.  If history has taught us anything, it is that the old ways die out and the new ways determine the future of humanity.  If you want to know where the world is going, whether you like it or not, look to the youth of your community. Look to the new ideas and values. Whether you agree with change and evolution or not, history has shown us that it is inevitable.

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When we look back at human evolution, it becomes clear where we got the idea that being different, or not conforming was bad. It often lead to conflict and separation.  It meant being rejected and having to survive on your own.  It meant having a tougher path and possibly death, yet we can also see how incredibly important it was to human development.  Each individual that challenged the status quo, lead to the evolution of the human race.  We now live in a time, where human diversity is so incredibly vast that it is becoming more and more difficult to label and categorize people. Yet, we still try our level best to continue doing so.  We sort other people constantly.  He/she is the same as me, he/she is different than me. Us and Them. Yet, it is almost impossible to know someone’s ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, political views, or basic values, just by looking at them. There were times in history where this was much more obvious and simpler to do, but it is far more challenging in today’s world. There are a few obvious exceptions of course, like clothing intended to signify someone’s religion, but generally speaking, we still make far too many assumptions about one another based on very little actual information. We also get very frustrated or even angry when we can’t easily put people into boxes, or if our assumptions based on appearance lead us to reprimand people for cultural appropriation, or mis-representation, without actually having the slightest clue what someone’s culture, life experience, or up-bringing has been.  Just when we think we have someone pegged, they surprise us with something we never knew about them.  For example, most people don’t know, that I have at least six different ethnicities in my heritage, one of which is Mi’kmaq (First Nations people indigenous to Canada’s Maritime Provinces).  You may just see a white girl with naturally blonde hair and blue eyes, and an Irish name.  The truth is, I am much more diverse than that.  I have also been asked on many occasions if I am Scandinavian because of how I look.  I have a diverse heritage, but Scandinavian, the ethnicity I apparently look the most like, isn’t part of it. Funny now, that I married someone who is partly Scandinavian, and so now my children are, so it has become part of my family’s culture. My story, is a common story, especially in Canada, and it is becoming more and more common with the globalization and integration of many cultures, religions, ethnicities, etc.  Inter-racial marriage, adoption, mixed families through marriages, not to mention all the people who live and raise their families within a culture that is not their culture of origin. Our ancestors fought for generations to allow the diversity and integration that is now common, to become socially acceptable. Lest we forget how it used to be, and the intolerance that previous generations had to endure.

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So, I ask myself, given the state of the world, what if we are at a tipping point in humanity, where a pattern that existed to focus on the differences between people in order to sort and separate for the sake of creating human diversity, is no longer in our best interest for our evolution?  What if, we have become so diverse and so separate now, that the only way for us to evolve further is to switch our focus to the sameness and oneness that is humanity?  What if carrying on in the same manner as we have been with a population as large and diverse as it currently is, will only lead us towards conflict and self destruction? I mean, how separate can we possibly get before it all falls apart? History has shown us again and again that too much separation makes us vulnerable. We know innately that we are stronger together, and I can’t help but notice that a shift in much of society has been occurring.  A shift towards inclusion and tolerance and in the allowing of each individual to just exist without a constant need to label them. This shift becomes quite obvious when you listen to the youth.

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To see just how complicated the world has become, just watch people ordering a coffee at Starbucks or buying a pair of jeans, there are so many options now, it’s overwhelming.  It is also overwhelming to try to constantly put people in boxes.  Gay? Straight? Bi? Male? Female? Trans-Gender? Religion? Ethnicity? Culture? Age? Liberal? Conservative? Rich? Poor?  AHHHHHHHHH?!!! Let’s not even get started on all the sub-cultures, sub-religions, etc. The diversity makes some people so frustrated, that they flatly refuse to even acknowledge some of the diversities that exist. They can’t even process more categories so they simply say, “There is male and female, that is all!  Blue and Pink.  End of story.” Well, here’s another perspective. If the complex diversity of people makes you feel threatened, or confused and overwhelmed so much so that you don’t even want to acknowledge it’s very real existence, why not stop trying so damn hard to label and categorize everyone, and just see other people as human beings instead? Admit it, trying to figure everyone out and sorting them into boxes gives us anxiety. So, let’s stop! Ask yourself, what is the point?  Why spend your time and energy doing that? To what end, and for what purpose? Why not take a load off of yourself and surrender to the simple fact that we are all Humans? We all live on planet earth, we all have a heartbeat, we all come from a woman’s body, we all have families and friends, we all feel love and fear and a multitude of emotions.We all breath air and look up at the same starry sky.  The sun rises and sets on all of us and we all move through our lives within the same 24 hours per day. We all are born, we live life and we die. We are also, each and every one of us, complex and diverse individuals.  This too, makes us the same.  We are one people. One race.  The Human Race, and our diversity is our strength.

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Michael Sanders, Electric Monk Media

STYLING, HAIR & MAKEUP BY: Tara Cole-McCaffrey, Patron of Dreams

VINTAGE & THRIFTED FASHION: Fur hat, fur coat, mukluks, military-style cropped jacket, leopard print skirt, necklace, belts and rings.

CURRENT FASHION: tie-dye tights and faux septum ring from Urban Waves Winnipeg,  black military-style coat by Ralph Lauren.

Ascension

“The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.” – Ben Okri

“When you can imagine, you begin to create and when you begin to create you realize that you can create a world that you prefer to live in, rather than a world that you’re suffering in.” – Ben Okri

“Reach for the best feeling thought you have access too.” -Abraham Hicks

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Mid-January.  It’s still dark out by 5 p.m. The holidays are over, bank accounts are looking dismal, the sugar detox is real, and statistics show that most people have already given up on their New Year’s resolutions a week ago.  Enter Blue Monday, the third Monday in January, reported to be the most depressing day of the year.  I’m not gonna lie, it can be very challenging to keep your chin up and keep on trucking optimistically when so many people around you are suffering and struggling to see the point of it all. It can leave you having to dig deep to find the motivation to power on.  So, what do we do about it?  Well, for starters, let’s not fall for the oldest mistake in the proverbial book.  If you are feeling a little lower than usual, now is not the time to shoot for the stars and make unrealistic plans and demands on yourself.  You know I’m all about dreaming big and believing in your ability to live your dream life, but I have lived long enough to know that shooting too high, when you are feeling too low, is a recipe for failure and can knock you back even further than where you started from.  I think about my emotions like a staircase.  Each step up is a small improvement in how I feel.  The bottom step is hopelessness.  It’s where depression resides.  You may currently be on the third step, where frustration is rampant, but remember, it is a whole lot better than hopelessness. So, how do I climb the staircase?  Well, firstly, I realize that I can’t jump from the bottom step to the top.  Its just not possible, physically, or emotionally.  But, I can focus on the things that are working and the little things that make me feel good, like the warm glow of a scented candle, a really great cup of coffee, or how lovely the light is in the morning through my front window, and suddenly, my gratitude has carried me up a few steps.  If you treat it as a daily practice to notice the good stuff, then before you know it, you have reached the step that has you revelling in hope and optimism.  From here, you can see the top and now is the time to dream big and get specific about the things you want.  If you can get up enough inspiration and emotional will, you may even be able to launch yourself up the last few steps to the top, where all your dreams reside.  Here’s the catch though, no one stays at the top of the staircase forever.  The truth is, you’d get bored there.  It’s in our nature to want to be working toward something, to want to improve and to overcome adversity.  It’s in our DNA.  It’s part of being human.  From one day to the next, we climb up and down the staircase of life through many trials and tribulations.  Sometimes we get stuck for longer than we’d like on a particular step, or continually return to one on the regular.  If this is happening to you, chances are, you have something to learn from it, and you’ll keep returning to that step until you do.  The thing to remember is that it is in our power to climb or not climb.  We have the capacity to look around us right now in this very moment, find things to be grateful for, and start the process of ascension, no matter where you are on the staircase of life.

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Michael Sanders, Electric Monk Media

STYLING, HAIR & MAKEUP BY: Tara Cole-McCaffrey, Patron of Dreams. Hair cut and colour by Kitty of Berns and Black.

NEW FASHION: Flared pants by H&M, Velvet booties from Hudson’s Bay, Velvet jacket from Winners.

THRIFTED FASHION: Sunglasses, satin Chinese-inspired blouse, scarf.

VINTAGE FASHION: Embroidered hat.