I am not sure of the answer, but with all the talk of cutting funding to the NEA and other arts organizations, I wanted to take the moment to attempt to define the problem, at least as I see it.
First, the reason I believe that arts are an important is that the arts are the place in our culture where innovation happens. Within the conversations of art we can start conversations about family, politics, social problems and outrageous, innovative solutions. The arts serve as a venue where the common man can stand up and be heard.
It has been said that "the arts are the flower of a free society." This isn't just a pretty metaphor, it's a perfect, detailed one. A plant doesn't flower unless it is healthy. The arts can't flourish unless society is free. If the arts start to die, it is probably a sign that we are becoming less free and independent thinkers.
The arts also parallel the biological function of a flower in that the arts are the place where our society reproduces, where new ideas are born and grow. These new ideas may not seem practical in the moment, but those same, freely expressed ideas are the ones that inspire the innovation, individualism and free expression that continue to make our country a leader in the global economy.
It is for these reasons that I understand the arts to be vitally important to the survival of our society. It is for these reasons, I believe, that since the ancient Greeks, major governments have made it a point to support artists and the arts.
Conservatism is defined by a desire to keep things as they are or as they have been. Conservatives generally desire for progress and change to occur as slowly as possible, and desire to maintain the status quo. The flowering of new ideas, voicing of radical opinions and exploration of controversial topics that the arts inspire work directly against the desires of conservatism.
I am not suggesting that the majority of conservative Republicans in our government are conspiring to stomp out speech, innovation, exploration and change (though in doing so they are preserving the power of the current elite, which could be seen as serving their interests). I do believe however that those conservative decision makers lack an understanding that the arts have these powers. Conservative politicians are likely to have come from conservative families. More than likely they would not have been exposed to the kind of art that creates real and positive change. When they think of artists, the mental pathway has not been laid for them to logically connect the art of the moment to the social movement, entrepreneur or political activist it will eventually lead to. Unless we are taught to see it, there is no direct visual evidence to show a casual, one time observer, that this slam poet, fringe theatre company, dance concert, photographer or choral group is vital to the everyday operation of our society. And so a conservative politician confronted with a budget crisis does what any of us would do, they cut the things that appear most indulgent and unnecessary.
So the problem we are faced with is, how do we access a group of people, whose basic approach to the world is to avoid change, and convince them to continue to support an institution that serves to provide the change and the progress that our society requires to survive.
I don't have an answer yet, but I feel that framing the question this way gives me a better grasp of the situation. "They don't understand" is no help; "these are the specific things I need them to learn and understand" is much more productive, and I feel that if I continue to attack the problem from this angle, I am going to find a way to change minds.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
National cuts to arts funding
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