I was recently involved in a conversation in which the topic of shoes came up. (Yes, shoes.) Someone said they had read an article that the first thing people notice about someone else was their shoes.
Shoes. Really? To be honest, I don’t remember ever noticing someone’s shoes, unless it was a clown with giant floppy ones. Years ago I had a friend who had said that was true of them but I sort of wrote that off as an odd idiosyncrasy.
But the comment this time prompted some thought. Clearly there are people for whom that is true; and it must also be true of the writer of the article. Otherwise, why would one even think to address that as a topic? It also seems possible that the way they think about shoes might make them unaware that there are people who do not notice shoes.
And, me being me, that made me think about the way we so often write talk and about the arts. (You saw that coming, right?) We often assume that everyone thinks about the arts as we do because the way we think about the arts is so normal, so usual, so natural to us. To be clear: They. Do. Not. Indeed, in the great scheme of things, we are the anomaly. It is this artcentricity that gets in the way of our communicating with those who do not think like we do. This mutual incomprehension is one cause of the chasm we must cross in bringing new people to the arts, a task that is essential for our long-term survival. It should also be a compelling mission for us. Or why else are we in the arts?
To be fair, the fact that we can be unaware that people don’t think like us is understandable, just as the shoes/not shoes mindset is. It is natural to think that people think the way we do because how would we know otherwise? However, once we learn otherwise, if we do not adjust our thinking (and resulting actions), the fallout from not doing so is all on us.
There is, however, another response to being told “otherwise.” That is to believe noticing shoes (or not noticing them) makes us somehow superior to the unwashed who do/don’t. Let’s not even go there!