YES VIRGINIA, THE ARTS REALLY DO MATTERHello everybody.
“And the beat goes on..............”
YES VIRGINIA, THE ARTS DO MATTER!
Delaine Eastin, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction, use to tell a story about how she would ask an audience how many of those who were present were artists. In a typical audience of 100 people, five or six hands might go up. Then she would tell that audience that when she asked the same question in a kindergarten class every single hand would go up – every single time.
Little kids instinctively think of themselves as creative, as artists. Somewhere along the line that becomes uncool, and by the sixth grade far fewer hands go up. I wonder how much of that thinking is the result of the relentless barrage of messages that the arts are just a frill, a luxury, an elective subject – not really important; in the overall pantheon of priorities, the arts don’t really matter - not like math & science, not like fame and fortune, not like gossip and celebrity, not like sports and business, not like war and discord.
I get so tired of that message – frequently hidden in other messages, but as often directly said. Witness the moronic Congressmen whose response, when the arts were included (in a very minor way) in the jobs stimulus package earlier this year, was that ‘the money should be used for people with “real” jobs.’ Duh?
I am getting to the point of being beyond angry, because, frankly there is no outrage against this myopic, erroneous, fallacious and dangerous thinking – certainly not in the public, and honestly, not enough from ourselves. We’re so use to it that it hardly even surprises us anymore. As the Vietnam experience taught my generation, after awhile you become numb to body counts, and news of events and circumstances otherwise shocking and unacceptable, become mundane and all too common if repeated frequently enough. So it is with the ever continuing message that the arts are simply not that important.
We continue to counter that message as we must, but lord, how long will it take us to put it to rest? All I want for Christmas, Santa Claus, is for the world to celebrate and embrace the joy of the arts. Or maybe just that the brain dead idiots who simply don’t get it, would just shut up for awhile. Please.
A few days ago I came across a copy of the old (1897) New York Post editorial (click for the original)in response to eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon’s plaintive inquiry as to whether or not Santa Claus was real. It struck me that the question wasn’t much different than if a child today were to ask if the arts are real or important. I found that the Post editorial, with really just a few changes, could answer that question as well as the one about Santa Claus.
With apologies to the Post, here then is my rewording of that famous editorial, as it might apply to the innocent question: “Do the arts really matter? “
"DEAR BLOGGER: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say the arts aren’t important; that they are just a frill, and that they don’t matter anyway.”
"Papa says, 'If you see it in BARRY’S BLOG it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; Do the arts matter?”
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they have been conditioned to believe. They think that nothing can be important which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, the arts do matter. They matter as certainly as imagination, wonder, joy, curiosity and creativity matter, and you know that those things abound and give to your life its highest beauty and meaning. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no arts. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no dreaming, no spark, no reflection of beauty, no romance, no color to make tolerable this sometimes gray existence. We should have no enjoyment, except that prescribed by those who see everything in black and white and never question anything. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe that the arts matter! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to make a list of everything that is quantifiable, everything that can be neatly assigned some place in the order of our world. And the arts might not make that list, but that doesn’t make them less valuable, less important. The most important and valuable things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. But it is the job of the artist to try.
And that Virginia is why the arts exist – to give form and voice to all that inspires awe in us; to allow what abides in our hearts an expression we can share with those about us; to frame the loftiest of our aspirations, question our assumptions and challenge our complacency, and to remind us of both our frailties and our decency. The arts are as real as the sun on the horizon every morning, as important as the dew on the meadow in early winter and matter as much as the blooms of the flowers each spring – as real as love and joy and hope. Do not be deceived by those who think the only things that matter can be categorized as only utilitarian. They don’t even know what true utility is Virginia.
You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, music, dance, poetry, beauty, love, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Only the arts do that for us Virginia. Is it all real? Do they matter? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding; and not much else that really matters in the end.
The arts are what we leave for those who come after us Virginia. Like ideas themselves, the arts are a gift that transcends time; a gift first to ourselves, then to our legacies. They are what separate us from all the other life forms we share this orb with. It is who we are Virginia. Long, long after all the rest is gone – the politics and wars, the technology and advances of the moment, the changing beliefs and concerns, the celebrities and gossip of our age, the ups and downs of history – long after all of that Virginia, the arts will still be here – standing alone to give pause and testimony to the majesty and grace of humanity – a reminder of what we did right, of the promise of our future and all that is good within us; a testament to our hopes and dreams Virginia.
No arts! Thank God! the arts live, and they live forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, the arts will continue to make glad the heart of childhood and of all of us all throughout life.
And nothing Virginia is more important or more meaningful than that.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy Kwanza to all.