Written by Victor Stanley Jr.
If you look around wherever you are at right now or take the time to observe the population of where you live, you will notice a multiplicity of cultures. If you were to survey the population of your geographical region you would find that people have different political views, different religious beliefs, different values, different customs, different, different, different. Throughout history we have always been quick to point out the differences amongst the vast populace that makes up our world. Sometimes to our benefit, but more often than not, it is to the detriment of those whom we label as different, and to ourselves. Yet interestingly enough there is and always has been a common thread amidst the segregation so prevalent in the human race.
Ironically the thing that so completely bonds us together is as unique in its nature as the tapestry of the world’s cultures. This thing, this force, this essence of the human story is feared and embraces by the wisest and most powerful of people to the lowliest and most ignorant of people, it is the driving force behind the greatest revolutions, political movements, and social causes throughout human history. It breeds anger, hate, sadness, joy, excitement, love, peace, and most importantly, ideas. It is simply summed up in one word, Art, yes art is this thing I’m talking about, it is the driving force behind the human story, and it is struggling to remain relevant and poignant in modern society.
Art, and the Liberal Arts in general are fighting for relevance in our modern society, specifically within public and private schools and colleges; but we can join with those who advocate for its preservation.
Many people think of the arts as simply painting, music, theatre, and dancing. This is simply a narrow view of the arts, and does not fully grasp all that they entail. In my previous statement I mentioned liberal arts, a term that is usually interchangeable with humanities, which is the broader heading that the arts fall under, and includes subjects such as literature, philosophy, religion, and visual and performing arts, along with history and social sciences. One look at these areas of study, and you will quickly come to the realization that these subjects form the core of our society. I’ll borrow the words of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:
“I start from a simple presumption that I think most parents and teachers share. And that is that all students—100 percent—should have access to arts instruction. All children should have arts-rich schools. Judged against that widely-shared standard, I think it is clear that our public schools have a long way to go before they are providing a rich and rigorous arts education to all students.”
Without the arts you would not be sitting and reading this blog right now. Without the arts the situation in D.C. with the government shutdown would not have taken place—maybe that’s a bad example—and no matter which side of the issue you fall on, the fact that you have any political opinion at all is a result of the arts; or didn’t you know that political science falls under liberal arts. Without art there is no creative thought, which stems from philosophy, there is no moral code that people hold to, which usually stems from religion, nor is there the law which keeps order in our society. Most importantly—in my mind at least—without the arts there is no exposure to literature. The implications of a world without literature are vast, but consider this; all of human history is for the most part because of written records. Even thought, that is abstract thought, which fuels science, technology, and the formation of civilizations and societies has been made tangible through literature.
Here are a few statistics to mull over that were pulled from a Time Magazine article by Jon Meacham (2013). Sixty-two percent of recent college graduates didn’t know the correct length of congressional terms of office, and in 2012 eighty-three percent didn’t know what the Emancipation Proclamation ordered. This culminates in the fact that in 2011 thirty-six percent of college graduates showed no significant cognitive gains over four years.
Why is any of this relevant to me, you may ask yourself. Although I think the relevance is obvious, it can be summed up in this statement from the recently resigned Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter (2010), “…provisions of the U.S. Code outlining the purpose of the NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities] bear repeating. The law states that Congress finds ‘an advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone but must give full value and support to the other branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.’ ‘Democracy,’… ‘demands wisdom and vision in its citizens.’”
So then, what can one do to assist in the preservation of the arts?
Well there are several organizations you can join up with, as well as raising a voice of concern in your own community. One such organization founded in 1960 is Americans for the Arts; it is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education. Americans for the Arts is the parent organization of the Arts Action Fund, which is a nonprofit organization that supports arts education. Membership in this organization is free, and puts you right in the middle of the fight for preserving the arts in schools.
ArtsActionFund.org states that, “Americans for the Arts Action Fund PAC is the only national bipartisan political action committee (PAC) devoted to electing members of Congress who will fight for the arts and arts education at the federal level.” As you can see the Arts Action Fund is not simply a collective of concerned citizens, but is an active voice for the arts and humanities in Congress. Raising funds for pro art Congressional candidates is a major function of the Arts Action Fund, as well as lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Simply voicing one’s dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs will effect little to no change, but working within the system has the potential to move mountains.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (2012) voices his concern saying, “…as I look ahead, I am very concerned that states and districts are going to be under enormous budget pressure to cut back on arts education in the next few years. Despite the brutal budget climate in the states and in Washington, arts education must not just survive but thrive. A well-rounded education is simply too vital to our students’ success to let the teaching of the arts and humanities erode.” This is why the Arts Action Fund and other organizations of the like are so important; they seek to put people in power who will not toss the arts to the side when budget discussions arise, and who recognize how vital the arts are to our society.
Without the arts we lack the cognitive skill to progress as a society, and will become victims of the inability to create.
Jon Meacham of Time Magazine (2013) in referring to the benefits of arts education points out that, “By reading classic texts—from Plato’s Republic to [Machiavelli’s] The Prince to the Declaration of Independence, with the Bible… thrown in for good measure—and discussing them in the context of enduring human society, every student was compelled to engage with ideas that formed the mainstream of the American mind.” The value of something so intangible as ideology and human expression is hard to quantify, but its absence is easily felt.
When dictators take over countries one of the first things they do is attack the arts. They ban books, censor media, crush political ideology that is in opposition to them, get rid of fine arts, and implement the unethical use of psychology to brainwash the population. These societies then start to resemble the dystopian society of George Orwell’s 1984, or the ignorant and oblivious society of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Still as we look ahead to the future let us hope for the best.
Even with the amount of funding allocated to the arts declining, and the emphasis on humanities weakening, we have to continuously work within the system to make sure the arts have a voice. As I stated at the beginning of this post, the most important function of the arts and humanities is that they fuel abstract thought and inspire ideas. George Orwell famously wrote that “…to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.” He was specifically speaking about English, but the sentiment applies to all the arts, because the arts are the tool used to train the mind to think clearly.
Duncan, A. (2012, April 2). Prepared Remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the Report, “Arts education in public elementary and secondary schools: 2009-10.” Address at Miner Elementary School, Washington, D.C.
Kanter, M. J. (2010, June 22). The Relevance of Liberal Arts to a Prosperous Democracy. Remarks at the Annapolis Group Conference.
Meacham, J. (2013, October 7). What colleges will teach in 2025: America must resolve the conflict between knowledge and know-how. Time, 182, 42, 44, 53.