My eyes ran along the walls of the almost-empty record store in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city, on a brilliantly sunny Monday afternoon. The endless collection of covers all bled into one another until my eyes come to rest on a very special LP. The vinyl was swathed in vibrant colors that outlined what appeared to be two hands intertwining on its case. I picked the disc up.
“Would you like me to put that on?”
Without waiting for an answer, the store manager switched the soothing jazz that had been spinning with the record in my hand. Almost instantly, we were surrounded by the characteristic deafening roar of ’80s rock.
“What language is this?” I half-asked, half-shouted over the noise.
“Croatian,” he smiled in return.
Did you know that Croatia had a booming rock scene in the ’80s? That the Czechs live and die for thrashing punk rock? That the fall of the Berlin Wall led, in part, to the progressive, industry-changing techno the nation produces today?
I think we often forget that art is everywhere.
The mainstream media exposes us to very few artists and performers who are non-Western.
Western imperialism informs the entertainment culture of countries around the world. Children in Southeast Asia name Taylor Swift and One Direction when asked if they listen to pop music. Teenagers from Macedonia can quote lines from “Harry Potter” or “Game of Thrones” when asked about their favorite movies and television shows.
It’s easy to forget that other forms of art and culture even exist — especially if one lives in a country as powerful in the entertainment industry as our own.
But what I’ve learned while writing this column as I traveled across 10 countries these last few weeks is this: Art exists everywhere.
Creative trends and styles transcend arbitrary lines drawn up to be country borders. Art, as a whole, integrates itself into different cultures, languages and locations. It’s absolutely incredible that I am able to recognize a certain style of guitar riff in the Czech Republic or that I can find the same street-art motifs in the artists’ squats of Slovenia that I do in the alleyways of Los Angeles.
Art, in all of its universality, has always managed to be translated across lands and seas — even without modern-day technology.
After I spent a summer exploring in this column the relationship between technology and contemporary art, I find it incredibly interesting that when it comes to art in the world today, we’ve ended up back where we started. Our modern-day advancements may have allowed new genres to emerge and changed our attitudes toward art, but in the grand scheme of things, none of that matters.
We’ve always found ways to share our expressions of art — arguably the most intimate parts of our souls — with one another.
The only notable difference today? Technology just makes it easier.
It doesn’t take a common language for a chord progression to make two people feel the same way. It doesn’t take a common culture to understand why the striking color of oil on canvas can tug at your heartstrings.
Wires and sparks are not, nor have they ever been, things we need to feel the liaison that art provides between one being and another. That’s not to say, however, that we shouldn’t take advantage of the wealth of connectivity at our fingertips.
With a couple of searches and a few minutes of scrolling, I can find out what Cape Town chillwave sounds like, what is played at Hungarian music festivals or that the Dutch song “Drank & Drugs” has been unofficially deemed the “song of summer” by GQ and the Internet at large.
There’s so much culture and life out there. It’d be a shame if we didn’t try to soak in as much as we can.
“Do you like them?”
The store clerk’s words jolted me out of the mesmerizing trance the music had driven me into.
“Yeah, a lot. I didn’t know Croatia had a big rock scene.”
He gave me a look and a quick, knowing smile while rifling through a rack of posters.
“Well, what you don’t know will surprise you.”
Eda Yu writes the Thursday column on art in the modern age. Contact her at at [email protected].