Monday, August 13, 2012

Eye of the beholder

After a week of studying arts-in-education with dozens of educators who share my excitement for the arts, my return to reality has already been bit disappointing.  During our 5-day Arts Impact summer institute, I heard story after story about the power of the arts; I saw clips of students describing the confidence, creativity, and collaboration skills they gained through various exploration in the arts; and I began to forget that many people in our society still do not consider the arts a viable school subject...or career...or hobby.

Heartbreaking.  So far, that word is all that I can say in response to the doubt and negativity I have already experienced when discussing my amazing week with friends and colleagues.  I have tried twice to write out my thoughts, but so far nothing else has been able to elaborate on my feelings effectively.  Just "heartbreaking." As my eyes well up with inspired tears for the reality I find portrayed in a painting, dance, or song, my loved ones look for grammatical errors or for examples of graffiti to show that these pieces aren't really so impressive.  I listen as people I respect tear down the artistic process of respected creators, arrogantly claiming, "Well even I could have done that" or "I can take better pictures with my smartphone."  People today will pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of jeans, or a fancy meal, or tickets to a football game, but we can't take 5 minutes of our time to consider the way our world looks or sounds or feels--to artists?--to ourselves?  And people certainly don't seem to think that artists deserve to be paid for what they do!  After all, they're only writing words, or splashing paint, or waving their arms around on stage. And "even I could do that." Therein lies another problem for me: why do people so quickly judge art by its product?

Sometimes I feel as if art is less about its product and more about the process, it's about what you experience or discover or give of yourself along the way.  Maybe that's where the teacher in me diverges from the artist in me? I think that judging an artist or a work of art only by its product is misleading and ill-informed. And I think that's precisely why our society has learned to devalue art: because they don't realize all that there is to gain IN ADDITION to the product itself.  They evaluate it according to its difficulty, its potential for gross income, its ability to win contests, or its likelihood of leading to fame. However, those lenses rarely lead to a happy life--in any career field!  Yet they hold art to standards which they willingly overlook for the careers or areas of life that appeal to them more.

My recent reflections have led me to three likely causes for such widespread criticism of the arts, and of course, they have also led me to consider my own opinion on the issues.
1. I believe that any industry can be gifted with geniuses and can be plagued by frauds, and I believe most industries are full of people who never "make it big" but who continue to love what they do, and continue to grow in their abilities while earning a respectable living. Unfortunately, many people question the viability of a career in the arts, as if a life in the arts is somehow wildly different from other careers.
2. I believe few other aspects of life can be experienced by all people in such a variety of ways, and I believe that few other subjects can inspire critical thinking and self-confidence the way that the arts can. Unfortunately, many people assume that since some artistic pieces look simply made, of course that must mean art as a whole must not require much thought, talent, or skill.
3. I believe that the arts can provide opportunity for people to work together to create something bigger than themselves, opportunity for people in our sometimes too-independent society to step outside of our comfort zone and work together as if we were a team or a family.  Most unfortunately, teams and families don't seem to earn much admiration in today's news; the rebel, the diva, the solo artist make for better magazine covers, and so even the collaborative benefits of the arts are too often overlooked.

The idealist in me would hope to enlighten these doubters to see more value in the creative arts, but the realist..maybe the nearly defeated pessimist...in me might just settle for this consolation: The people who can't afford 5 minutes to ponder a professionally created piece of art surely won't take the time to read the words of my silly little blog, but maybe my words can still encourage other art advocates who are fighting against similar obstacles.  If enough of us perservere in our goal to spread appreciation for the arts in our world, perhaps we can bring about change in our collective society.  Maybe one day, artists will write, paint, dance, or sing about the transformation of the arts in our world.



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