On art, culture, and a generation likely to be void of such appreciation

   

If you have children, I recommend reading the following — an abbreviated version of Dana Gioia’s, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts — commencement speech given at Stanford University this year: The Impoverishment of American Culture (excerpts below)

And father-Wall-Streeter-VC, Roger Ehrenberg’s reaction: here 

Adult life begins in a child’s imagination, and we’ve relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.

We need to create a new national consensus. The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.

What are we to make of a public education system [ours] whose highest goal seems to be producing minimally competent entry-level workers?

Entertainment promises us a predictable pleasure — humor, thrills, emotional titillation or even the odd delight of being vicariously terrified. It exploits and manipulates who we are rather than challenging us with a vision of who we might become. A child who spends a month mastering Halo or NBA Live on Xbox has not been awakened and transformed the way that child would be spending the time rehearsing a play or learning to draw.

If you don’t believe me, you should read the studies that are now coming out about American civic participation. Our country is dividing into two distinct behavioral groups. One group spends most of its free time sitting at home as passive consumers of electronic entertainment.

The other group also uses and enjoys the new technology, but these individuals balance it with a broader range of activities. They go out — to exercise, play sports, volunteer and do charity work at about three times the level of the first group. By every measure they are vastly more active and socially engaged than the first group.
What is the defining difference between passive and active citizens? Curiously, it isn’t income, geography or even education. It depends on whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts. These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of individual awareness and social responsibility.

Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world — equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Art addresses us in the fullness of our being — simultaneously speaking to our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory and physical senses… And it remembers. As Robert Frost once said about poetry, “It is a way of remembering that which it would impoverish us to forget.” Art awakens, enlarges, refines and restores our humanity.

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