Art is a Measure of Society’s Success Nov16

Art is a Measure of Society’s Success...

As an advocate of the arts I often look in to academic studies that champion their cause. Recently I came across a compelling case in Harvard’s Project Zero for valuing art for art’s sake in educational systems, particularly because linking art in the classroom to the success of other subjects is not keeping art in the classrooms during hard times. Rather than tying the value of the arts to other subjects, such as suggesting that an education in music will benefit math skills, the authors of Harvard’s Project Zero claim that we should focus on art’s unique and intrinsic value. Art is necessary for its own contributions as stated by Project Zero’s authors: The arts have been around longer than the sciences; cultures are judged on the basis of their arts; and most cultures and most historical eras have not doubted the importance of studying the arts. … The reason is simple. The arts are a fundamentally important part of culture, and an education without them is an impoverished education leading to an impoverished society. Studying the arts should not have to be justified in terms of anything else. The arts are as important as the sciences: they are time-honored ways of learning, knowing, and expressing. (p. 3) A lack of culture and an impoverished society; a big claim to make for the arts but a claim that is not without merit. In order to see what Project Zero might be referring to, let’s turn back the clock to 1943 when the motivational theory of aspirational psychologist Abraham Maslow first went to print. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a pretty familiar term in the circles of human developmental psychology, but for those of us not well versed in psychology it boils down to this:...

Writers Journey: Too Long Didn’t Read Culture...

We live in a too-long–didn’t-read culture today. (tl;dr) No one feels this more than the aspiring novelist. The poet may have a better chance at success in such a short-attention-span marketplace. The difference between the poet and the prose writer is worth mentioning either way. There are novels that are filled with poetry. And there are nearly novel-length poems. But the genres are separated by a small distinction in that prose is largely carried by the mind; poetry by the heart. For all of James Joyce’s poetic wording in Ulysses, the story is driven by the rational mind along some essential plot. Whereas a poem goes where the heart goes, even if it is as long as Virgil’s Aeneid, which may be said to have a fragment of plot within its mythic design; the chief ambition is to evoke emotion. A novel evokes an experience that may further produce emotion. Today, we rely on recording devices as our memories. That reliance has advantages but also with it comes the disadvantage of poorly sustained personal memory. A glance down a common list of symptoms for today’s many modern illnesses will reveal ‘difficulties with short and long term memory’ as frequently listed. Sometimes I wonder whether or not this is simply a universal symptom of the human condition today. In the ancient times, poets like Homer had whole ballads the length of The Odyssey and The Iliad in long-term memory, able to call upon those tales at festivals and recite them before an audience. They were trained to do this of course but they came from an oral tradition in which their culture valued recitation of verse at least once a season of every year. We rely very heavily on books to provide us with entertainment...

Stirring the Pot Jul08

Stirring the Pot

I was reading up on one of my favorite icons of nostalgia recently, Schoolhouse Rock. For those not familiar with it, it was a series of short cartoons shown during commercial breaks during Saturday morning cartoons. They were all educational in nature, starting with the basics of grammar and then delving into multiplication tables. Eventually, they included science and American history, and much later basic finance, and  a spin-off on computers. Each one covered its topic with a specially written pop song and animation. If you’ve heard of “Conjunction Junction”, “I’m Just a Bill”, or “Interplanet Janet”, this is where they came from. I was dumbfounded when I read that one of the modern criticisms about the series is that most of the songs aren’t actually “rock”. They explained that some are jazz, others are R&B, and still others are folk music. Then I understood that younger generations don’t understand that there was a time that all these and many other types of music were all grouped together under the umbrella of “rock music”. In the 60s through the early 80s, anything that was even remotely pop music considered itself rock. Rock radio stations could be expected to play anything from AC/DC to Vangelis to The Manhattan Transfer to Ronnie Milsap. I suppose it was inevitable that by the mid 80s the range of musical styles would cause the whole genre to fragment, and while some acts tried to bridge the widening gaps (like ZZ Top with the ill-conceived “Velcro Fly” music video) inevitably the public’s tastes became so polarized that almost no one identified themselves as rock fans anymore. Even the later Schoolhouse Rock shorts abandoned any pretense of being rock in any way. It should come as no surprise that all this...