March 1, 2017

A Case for Supporting the Arts

While pulling together writing samples for a recent job application, I found the following essay that I wrote in 2001. Some of the examples in it are a little outdated, but given our current political climate and the administration's expressed goals to discontinue the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the sentiments expressed in this essay are more important now than ever.
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The Importance of the Arts: Sustaining Life and Growth

The arts are important to people whether they recognize this importance or not. Would anyone, given the choice, care to live in a world like George Orwell’s 1984? Without the arts, we haven’t any design, embellishment, or difference between any two objects that fulfill similar needs. In short, without the arts, we have drab uniformity. All cars look and perform the same. All clothing is the same. Haircuts are no longer “styles.” Language loses it diversity and flair. Speech and writing are stripped of personality. There isn’t any music, performance, painting, photography, sculpture, film, comedy, or poetry. Food offers sustenance without taste. Sleepers do not dream. The conscious and unconscious lack creativity. There is no entertainment. A world without art is dead.

“Art is a guarantee of sanity,” artist Louise Bourgeois emphatically states. Sanity for both creator and audience, I believe. Without any creative outlet, I cease to be a functioning member of society. Art therapy is an extension of this idea. Through art production, many mentally ill people have learned to cope with their illnesses. The American Museum of Visionary Artists featured such therapeutic art in 1999 along with salutary and thankful statements from the patients cum artists.

As to the sanity of the audience, consider once again Orwell’s 1984. A society stripped of art is a society stripped of passion and spirit. Without external stimulation the mind atrophies. We become a society of functional vegetables. It’s only a matter of time before we cease to exist. Why procreate when there is nothing to live for?

Art is life and life is art. As a visual artist, when I look around I am amazed by what I see. The slanting sun coloring the glass of an office building an intense shade of tangerine is breath taking. The flow of highway traffic viewed from above on a bridge is mesmerizing. Rust patterns on a lamppost are gorgeous. A homeless mother and child are heartbreaking. These sights are available to everyone who passes, but not everyone recognizes nor appreciates the art available in everyday life. Artists are needed to capture and translate the art that is inherent in life. We provoke the general public to open their eyes and take notice of the world around them.

The arts make people think about things they normally take for granted. The arts challenge and provoke people. Exposure to new sights, locales, societies, traditions, rituals, and peoples is acquired through art. Art broadens our knowledge of the vast world in which we live. Art is education. The British government, for one, recognized the importance of the arts in education in the late 1800s. “The Education Act of 1870 and the Local Government Act of 1888 helped promote the growth of museums and performing arts facilities throughout Great Britain.” (Byrnes)

The importance of the arts is clearly and concisely stated in the mission statements of arts organizations around the country. Silver Eye Center for Photography in Pittsburgh “is dedicated to fostering the practice, appreciation, and understanding of photography as an art form and as a powerful form of visual communication.” Houston Center for Photography “provides a forum for the exchange of ideas, and promotes the study of photography, both as a medium of expression and as a tool of cultural investigation.” The Photographic Resource Center in Boston “is guided by a philosophical inquiry into the role of photographic media in the formation of human knowledge and experience.” The arts provide communication, investigation, knowledge, and experience.

The public perceives artists to possess “the magic to wrench color and meaning from their bleached lives.” (Truitt) The arts are essential to the creation and maintenance of a diverse, inquisitive, educated, balanced society. Say no to the drab, grey world of 1984. Embrace the arts and all they have to offer.

Works Cited 

Byrnes, William J. Management and the Arts. Woburn, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999. p 19.

Truitt, Anne. Daybook: The Journal of an Artist. New York: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1982. p 115

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