Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization


Handing Down of Culture and the Encounter
of the Younger Generation With Art

Léon Bernier*

It is well known that culture, in its anthropological sense, is a characteristic of collectivities and individuals which comes from an intergenerational handing down. Culturally, we are the heirs of our parents. As for the arts, breaking with heritage is the foundation of an artist’s approach to his or her work. So, in Québec, it is generally agreed that Refus global was a major date in the process of the emergence of an art which was modern and at the same time authentically Québécois. This is why it seems difficult, if not contradictory, to consider the handing down of culture through young people’s encounter with art.

The relationship between art and collective cultural identities (ethnic, national, etc.) should be seen as indirect. They can become more direct during certain historical periods, as was the case in the 1960s and 1970s in Québec, when the freedom of expression of artists almost became a vast movement for the collective emancipation of Québécois. But generally speaking, the expression of artists derives from unconscious springs of motivation and approach. The idea, for example, that art should be promoted as Canadian or as Québecois is not only a dubious idea but a dead end. This does not mean that a Canadian or a Québec art cannot exist, but that such eventualities are part of a process which, thank God, neither government nor any other institution (family, school, etc.) can control.

That said, it is not without interest or importance to try to see how, in today’s Québec, the younger generation encounters art — taking for granted that it is through the free expression of the younger generation, rather than through cultural policies, that Québec is likely to contribute to cultural diversity in the context of globalization. “Like living things,” says Fernand Dumont, “cultures do not maintain themselves by keeping sheltered from draughts, but through creative dynamism which shows life is there” (Dumont, 1995: 81).

My presentation is based on research I did with colleagues some years ago.1 That research was designed to explore more closely the encounter between young people and the arts, not only through cultural activities they were exposed to in the context of school activities or otherwise, but also their own experiences of “creating,” whatever the context or the artistic medium. The perspective we chose was wide, but also flexible, the process being close to exploratory, using an essentially qualitative methodology. The basic material is the content of 39 individual interviews with young persons who were chosen either as audience members at an artistic event (a theatrical presentation at the Théâtre Denise-Pelletier or a dance show at the Agora de la danse), or as “creators” (participants in the Festival de Création-Jeunesse of Oxy-Jeunes, or in a workshop at the Musée d’art contemporain, or students registered in an arts program at the secondary or college levels). They were asked to bear witness to these particular artistic experiences and to place them in the context of a history of their wider cultural life within the family, and in social, school and extracurricular activities. The majority of the young people interviewed were at the secondary level, III, IV and V, but some were attending a CEGEP or, occasionally, a university. In every case, adolescence can be mentioned as a crucial time for the awakening of creativity.

I do not intend to use all the data collected here. I will concentrate this presentation on just one of the two aspects we studied, that of creation, putting aside the consumption of culture for the moment. Nor shall I go into individual cases, even if the data are rich — perhaps the main source of interest in the work. My analysis will not deal with the messages and values upon which young people’s thoughts are based (although we have had occasional access to such data). I shall try rather to answer a general question: where does youth’s compulsion to make art come from — to see themselves and to assert themselves as creators? Or to put it more sociologically, what are the peculiar mechanisms in society that result in the creative activity of young people?

Thus, my presentation will contribute indirectly and partially to the main questions raised by this colloquium.

Chapter 9 , continued >


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