“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
Imagine a world without art, music, poetry, and stories. Such a world would lack the expression of much human creativity. It would be uninteresting, utilitarian, and devoid of entertainment, enjoyment, and the joy of living. When human ideas, expression, and creativity are forced to serve an overly rational or ideologically programmed agenda, when the mind and soul are collared by convention or chaffed by censorship, when freedom is suppressed, the arts suffer in fulfilling their purpose, which is, ultimately, to express the truth. Expression that is not free, is not full. It misleads since it does not tell the whole truth.
Self-expression through language, music, and imagery is an essential part of being human. As such, it is often the first casualty in times of inhumanity, war, fear, totalitarianism, terror, suspicion, and self-righteousness.
Art, in that it is the expression of truth, is not confined to what we often label as “the arts.” There is an art to any activity. How we order, explore, improve, and govern our lives is just as important, and can be as beautiful, as the most celebrated sculptures.
A political speech, for example, may not be very full of truth, but it still relies on the art of rhetoric to make a point and convince others. The sciences may seem supremely rational, but there is artistry involved in each equation, in the way numbers are used, in each supernova and black hole, and in the way plants and animals grow.
Each March, we celebrate Youth Art Month. There will be concerts, art shows, plays, and poetry recitals in McFarland schools and at the E.D. Locke Public Library. (A Youth Art Month reception will take place at the library on Thursday, March 1, from 5:30-7 p.m.) The McFarland Thistle will also be publishing student-created advertisements and student writing in its special section, “Adventures in Advertising,” in the March 29 issue.
This month take the opportunity to appreciate the important place the arts have in education and in the fullness of our lives. When we were small children, we would draw anything we wanted. Most of it didn’t resemble what we said it did, but our parents would gratefully accept these pictures and proudly display them on the refrigerator and the walls like the house was a museum gallery and we were acclaimed artists in residence.
For some of us, this parental encouragement and support for our artistic expression may have waned over time. Perhaps we found out that we could not draw or paint as well as we once thought we could. Maybe we could not carry a tune or commit ourselves to practicing. Perhaps we never got the hang of putting our deep thoughts into words so that others could understand and appreciate them. However, maybe we developed a love of visual art, took up a creative hobby, came to appreciate a type of music or found out we loved to read novels or textbooks on astrophysics.
Hopefully, we have come to a realization of how important the arts are in our lives. Hopefully, we do what we can to support them in our schools and continue our involvement in them beyond our time in school to enrich our lives, to inspire others, and to communicate the truth in a world full of instability, challenges, cynicism, negativity, confusion, and simple desperation for survival.
The arts can remind us of what is truly important in life, who we really are, and what our purpose is. So, take time to see, hear, and read what McFarland’s children are communicating through their art. And take time to express what is in your soul—either through creating or enjoying the many kinds of art which fill the world and make it an interesting place. This is something that makes life worth living.
In thinking about this week’s blog post, I am inspired by the act of advocacy. At National Arts Advocacy Day last month, arts advocates from all over the nation poured onto Capitol Hill to describe how the arts benefits the economy, culture, education, and healthcare. In an effort to procure support for the upcoming fiscal year, our carefully crafted message communicated how the arts not only enrich but exist as a necessity within the lives of Americans.
While arming ourselves with facts and figures provided by Americans for the Arts to state our case, a colleague of mine who works for the City of Mauldin Cultural Center proposed that we describe a day without the arts to adequately articulate the essential role of the arts in our lives. While he was not seriously considering this approach in our appointments on Capitol Hill, he was serious about how the gravity of the message could help illustrate—well not illustrate because the arts would not exist—how the arts are present all around us.
His idea reminded me of a reading by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards that I used to assign in introductory Women’s Studies courses entitled A Day Without Feminism. Their words are meant to convince post-feminist generations that their rights and privileges are due to the work of feminists that preceded them. Much like feminism, I am aware that my access to the arts was due to privilege, access, and the work of many artists and educators whose traditions I have studied. While I acknowledge that the arts have played a central role in my life, all of our lives are impacted regardless of our level of knowledge in or awareness of the arts. What would a day without the arts look like? The list below provides a few concrete examples that might resonate with non-arts enthusiasts, and I am sure that you could add a few points of your own:
- We would have no authors to paint the visual images we muse over while reading poetry, fiction, and/or nonfiction writing. Without books, magazines, and/or journalism, written communication would be purely factual without the presence of various literary devices used to enhance meaning or expression.
- Music would not exist so there would be no singing to the radio in the car, attending concerts, or singers performing the national anthem at ball games. Young children in school would not learn their ABCs, the fifty states, or other academic content through song. Since music would not exist, there would be no musical instruments, no bands, no symphonies, and no great composers.
- There would be no dance. Therefore, kinesthetic participation at social gatherings such as weddings and/or clubs. In addition, cultural traditions and/or religious ceremonies would not be expressed through movement. Dance would not be performed in theatres, music videos, or on television. We would be a culture that did not value kinesthetic expression, relying solely on verbal expression as a means of communication.
- Inspiration for architectural design would be solely based on function without attention to form. Therefore, all buildings would have a uniform look. Inside of our homes, furniture and housewares would be plain without a variety of shapes, styles, and/or colors. Our clothing would display the function of the garment as opposed to the aesthetic preferences of the individual.
- There would be no museums. And, since there would be no visual art, public art commonly seen in cities would not contribute to the aesthetic appeal of our communities. Furthermore, a lack of visual art would mean that children would not learn to draw, finger paint, and/or sculpt with clay.
- Print and television advertisements would be plain, serving the purpose of announcing a product as opposed to marketing it to a specific cliental. Going grocery shopping would consist of browsing over white packaging with black lettering with no catchy words or images to capture the essence of a product.
- There would be no actors because the field of theatre would not exist. Therefore, television would be relegated to reality shows! Our viewing choices would consist of the Kardashians, the Bachelor/Bachelorette, or Survivor. Commercials would not require actors to convince an audience that they need the product they are advertising. Without movies, film screens would simply be used to display information as opposed to stories that cause us to think, laugh, cry, and consider our own humanity.
A cartoon by David Horsey that a colleague of mine keeps in his office displays students at desks wearing blinders and helmets connected to hoses feeding their brains full of information. On the front of each helmet, the word “tests” appears. This illustration is black and white. One female student is staring out the window at a blue sky, beautiful blossoming tree, and a mountain with a lagoon at its base. In the sky, a bird holds a banner in its mouth that displays the words “the arts.” The caption for the teacher says, “Come away from the window! You don’t want to be a child left behind, do you?” The young girl responds by saying, “sounds good to me.” I love how this cartoon captures the essence of an education without the arts. A dismal existence indeed!
How would a day without the arts impact quality of life, learning, the economy, and health in your community? Share it with the skeptics.