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Whenever the economy slumps in the United States, art and performance programs are the first to be cut from academic institutions.  It seems to be viewed as a disposable luxury.   Yet, art, theater, music and literature have been part of the human being’s existence as far back as we can find evidence of man’s activities.  It seems to be a part of our human condition.  However intangible the benefit may be, we as human beings seem to have some need to continue finding the art within our own lives.  We decorate our homes, listen to music, read a poem, perhaps go out to see a show or take our children to learn dance.   Perhaps because it is so integral to our daily lives that this is the very reason we take it for granted.

Of course, I admit, I am biased.  I will not deny that.   I am a scenic designer for theater in addition to being an associate professor so of course I will defend the need for the arts.   But I also have to say that value should not be judged on money alone.  I know for myself that my art is such a profound expression of who I am that I cannot imagine life without it – or perhaps – would not want a life without it.  Why is that?  Do other people feel the same? 

I have spent many years defending the arts and why they are important.  I could expand upon how creative thinking processes have become extremely important to businesses in recent years or how creative artistic thought inspires scientists.   I could discuss how art impacts us all subconsciously, visceraly and profoundly in ways that make me feel alive and engaged in the world.  I could talk about the importance of telling stories in different ways so we can connect to the issues individually instead of in broad statistical analysis.  Or, I could take another road and argue that art for art’s sake is enough in itself.

I would like to hear from you.  What makes the arts, in whatever form, necessary to your life and well-being?  Can you even put it into words?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Larry Vigus permalink
    April 12, 2010 3:56 am

    This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote about Arts Education. Perhaps some of it will spark discussion or other personal contributions.

    There is nothing more valuable in a child’s life than a dedicated teacher. Having been strongly influenced in my own life by early arts education, and having seen how it has affected and empowered my adult life; I know that teachers of the arts have an extremely valuable role to play. The spark of creativity is the spark of life. If we are not creating; we are not fully alive. When we create we grow; and when we grow we improve our lives as well as those around us.

    I am convinced that an arts education offers something that is vital to our healthy emotional, physical, moral and intellectual development as individuals; and to our community as well. The role of arts education in my life was profound. What I learned in the arts has led me to be morally responsible, to seek knowledge for its own sake, to speak out, to listen to my heart and to “live in my body.”

    Because the public sector does so little to promote arts education it is up to us as parents, educators and artists to fill in the void. An arts education is not a luxury, but a necessity in order to cope with and to process the world and to be more fully aware and alive. We need to help as many children as possible to receive this gift. This opportunity leads to stimulation which can create focus. Once discipline is added to that focus each child is able to begin to find a vision and a voice that is as specific and individual as a fingerprint.

    I believe in the following idea adapted from the Schwartz School of The Dance:

    “The goal of an arts education is to serve the community by not only strengthening legs and arms, but also by introducing accomplishment and discipline to the spirit of all participants.”

  2. Shep Barnett permalink
    April 16, 2010 6:47 pm

    Over the last few years I have become passionate about Creativity. Especially in the re-discovery of lost Creativity. I bring up Creativity because I feel that Art and Creativity are conduits to each other. To me a fully evolved human being must be in touch with their creativity. Art education is one path to that end.

  3. John permalink
    April 19, 2010 1:05 pm

    I am not a professional (full-time) educator, but adjunct faculty since ’92 @ BU-COM. I earn my living by lighting TV & film and, strangely enough, that is what I help students learn.
    I am struck by the number of educators (as in the overwhelming majority of full-time “professors” within college departments) who have little experience earning their living in the professional world. Often it is only the “arts” departments in schools with conservatory programs that value working professionals on their faculty. This is a good balance I think.
    My take on many full-time academics is their almost total lack of sense of what earning a living in what they teach is really like – simply put: they could not cut it in the non-academic world. And, of course,the rebuttal to that statement is many adjunct faculty are pretty poor teachers. That should be very small comfort to the full-time faculty.
    You are concerned about arts education – deal with these two disconnects for a good start in the right direction. And work to change universities & departments to value more equally both types of faculty abilities & experiences.
    Next, never forget Don Hewitt’s keys to success in creating “60Minutes”…4 words…”Tell me a story!”
    I don’t mean in the style of the pap like “2-1/2 Men”, but really: entertain, enlighten, challenge, but make it enjoyable enough for the audience to enjoy doing it all again next time.
    I shake my head all too often at alleged artists’ efforts that confuse or bore or turn ’em off…and some academics teach courses like that. If you truly want to kill arts education, keep that baloney up.

  4. Cathie McClellan permalink
    June 2, 2010 6:15 pm

    Love the blog. I learned about it through the June Sightlines. I expect you will get many more readers, now. I only know your name because I have, for many years, used the article you wrote for TD&T on the use of image tiles in design conversations as a part of my courses in design fundamentals. Thank you for that.

    The Arts are my life. This is not a flip use of a tired catchphrase. I mean it. My favorite art quote is from Henry James:

    It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance… and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.

    Now, how we convince others of this, I have no idea. We face many of the same issues you have discussed at my university. On the plus side, creative work is accepted as part of the tenure and promotion requirements, but it still ranks as less important than publishing a book or even editing a series of books.

    At the same time, many parents of children in local schools are clamoring for the University to step in and compensate for the lack of arts programming. One of the questions currently under discussion is how the University can be a part of the community without it becoming just another service burden on junior faculty.

    I will say that one of my biggest frustrations in teaching students is that they don’t seem to see that theatre does influence minds and can change lives. Even those who do not believe that their future is filled with vast rewards of monetary compensation (although most do), still see theatre as entertainment, not education wrapped up in entertainment. I would love them to accept the responsibility of being an artist, to understand that art without a moral or social purpose is not Art. Why create if we have nothing to say? Why say anything if it does not help someone to see more clearly?

    Am I wrong?

  5. June 2, 2010 10:20 pm

    Cathie, thanks for your comments. I am glad that article you use lives on. I am working on making it an entire book with new exercises and a set of image cards included. Would that be of interest to people?

    To address your last frustration, I have started working more with students in service work empowering children with Boal techniques. I discovered that when students reach out to others in need, the benefits of theater become extraordinarily clear to them. Why does a set designer need to teach with Boal? Not sure – but it works. You would be surprised how tableaus of actors can instruct set design. Ah…but that is more material for the new book.
    Thanks for remembering that article. I thought it was long since forgotten.

  6. December 1, 2010 10:21 pm

    You’ve made a very excellent blog post.
    If it’s ok with you, I would like to request permission to use your article as it fits to my obstruction. I will be happy to negotiate to pay you or hire you for this.

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    Republic Polytechnic

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