Thursday, September 16, 2010

Our Invisible Selves

photo by John Sandel

In yesterday's post I said, "I'm sorry some kids don't have art class in school today." I was referring obliquely to school budget cuts, not to any school district specifically. The first comment that came in was from J+P, who some of you know is my husband. I was asleep when, soon after midnight, he typed in his comment, "Kids don't have art classes any more? WTF?"

He must have stewed all day. I asked his permission to use his 5:18pm comment for today's post. The photo, too, is his.


Okay, so, what—now we’re supposed to start calling art & beauty &  self-expression luxuries? Because some benighted wart of a legislature can’t figure out how to reapportion its weapons allowance?

I’m thisclose to resigning my commission in a species which tells me that beauty and losing-one’s-way-in-the-forests-of-metaphor are less valuable than carnage over oil, or someone’s holy book. We can’t afford to teach kids art? So, then, the painters at Lascaux and Altamira—I guess they had it pretty comfy, 15,000 years ago. That must be why they handed their works of hallucinatory reportage down to us … not because they were in constant danger of attack from man & beast, nor cowed by nature’s baffling whims. They could afford art and its fierce timesink.

And what of the heroes lost to Nazi murderers—the Karels, Kleins and Weisses who withstood torture and starvation and still found a way to make art? They smuggled out symphonies and novels written on toilet paper rather than let their inspiration & craft fade away like smoke from a chimney. But we just can’t shift a few bucks out of the “Hummer” column into the “fingerpaint” column.

It makes my head smolder. We spend our present and bankrupt our future; this is no problem merely of money. When Shelley called poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” he didn’t mean just writers and he wasn’t just being smug. Art has a power to drive the human imagination which war nor politics nor terror can ever match. But sometimes I wonder: maybe we know that and it scares us …

Art is central to our survival—it’s food for our invisible selves. Jesse Helms may have vilified Robert Mapplethorpe's photos because he knew about the towering outrage in the “Guernica”; and the subversive punch of Soul On Ice.

That’s pretty risky stuff, no? Better not let the kiddies get none o’that into their heads. But if they’d had a little more free expression as kids, the Stalins and Cheneys and Ahmadinejads of the world might have trained their energies into something positive.

This year, we cut the art budget. Gotta save the bucks, Charlie. Never mind the future—our appropriations guidelines were laid down for us …

Us. Never “them.” Never the kids. Always—us. It’s like we never got past the sixth grade, but we’re the ones with the plutonium.

24 comments:

Nathalie said...

Thank you. I can only second that.

And the photo is gorgeous.

Shell Sherree said...

I'm so glad you posted this. Thank you both.

Jean Spitzer said...

The photo is stunning. The essay right on.

Jean Spitzer said...

Though art doesn't necessarily make you a better person (good vs bad); it's more that you are better (more vs less).

Anonymous said...

Let me gently part the forest so the trees are visible. This (no art classes in schools) is just another example of how the good citizens of Califormia have lost control of their own state and have turned it over to illegals from other countries. The liberal, right wing agenda has put diversity education, multi-cultural classes, and English as a second language in the forefront of education. Lost in the shuffle is readin', writin', and rithmetic, and art. Before blaming Reagan, Bush, and Cheney I suggest all citizens of the Golden State take a good look in the mirror.

Susan Campisi said...

Wow! There's a lot of power in those words. And there's a lot of talent and passion in your family. Lucky for us.

I like the photo too. It reminds me of one I took through a shattered bus stop window in Seattle. This looks like a sheet but somehow I don't think that's right. What is it?

Steve Scauzillo said...

I did that DNA sampling thing and I found out I am related to the people who did the paintings in the caves as Lascaux! So art is in our DNA.

Cafe Pasadena said...

Well, I've been hearing for some time now how schools can't afford to buy students new books. I know of teachers who pay for some of the basics out of their own paycks.

It's another symptom of the downsizing of our economy. A trade off of building up formerly 3rd world economies.

We may be heading back to a time when you did art/creativity simply for the love of it.

pasadenapio said...

This is why it's doubly important for people to support non-profit organizations that provide arts learning programs for public schools, such as the Light Bringer Project.

Petrea said...

Hello, and thank you all for your comments.

I want to respond to Anonymous who may fear using his/her real name, knowing I'll disagree. Thank you for speaking up.

A few things:
A) we're not just talking about California. Bellis mentioned "no child left behind" yesterday and she's correct. The "3 Rs" are not left out of that program (regimented, perhaps, but not left out);
B)"illegals from other countries" don't vote on these things;
and
C)I don't know what the "liberal, right wing" is.

I think you must not be a Californian (for which you may be excused), because it seems you're unaware of our hamstrung legislature and Proposition 13, which goes back to 1978. That's long before many of us were here, including me.

But like I said, we're not just talking about California.

Cafe, I know teachers who pay for school supplies out of their pockets, too. I don't know how much of this has to do with outsourcing jobs to other countries, but that has long been a symptom of our other problems, such as our penchant for sacrificing quality for getting whatever's cheap.

Art, as you say, "for the love of it," will always exist. Maybe even more for the need of it. But I hate to think of the flattened lives of kids who never get exposed to its varieties and freedoms.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

The National Endowment for the Arts was established in 1965. President Lyndon Johnson said upon signing the enabling legislation for the NEA, "We fully recognize that no government can call artistic excellence into existence...Nor should any government seek to restrict the freedom of the artist to pursue his own goals in his own way." When Ronald Reagan came into office in 1980, he attempted to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts

and so it goes

The arts are always targeted by the right during times of political elections. One reason why is because individually we lack wealth and operate more in terms of cottage industries as oppossed to big buissness interests with their hired lobyist. Back in during the red scare, artist’ work were searched for coded signs. An abstract painting was said to contain a sickle; the media (Chandler/republican) had a field day with it; sound familiar?

and when that doesn’t work blame the illegals

Sarah said...

My child has been in the PUSD for 7 years and she's had art every year.

Speedway said...

A couple weeks ago, a columnist for a local paper wrote about a local HS football player who needed shoes, cleats to wear during the games, specifically. It wasn't that his parents couldn't afford ordinary cleats for their 15-year-old son, it was the fact that he needed at least size 20, and the manf contacted said it would cost $2900 to make one pair of the cleats for the boy, who's still growing (his dad is 6'9").

Well, the people of the town came through; at last count $15K in contributions had been received. The money will not only assure the boy that he will have the shoes, but other students at his HS will also benefit from the donors' generosity.

But what if that had been a request for paint, pencils, clay or musical instruments? As it turns out there is an organization, called Donors Choose, which accepts on-line contributions to help teachers fund projects and supplies for their classrooms. People who're interested may target their donations according to state, type of project, etc. Find it at:

www.donorschoose.org

altadenahiker said...

while I don't think finger painting and music appreciation would have wiped out Stalin's mass murder tendancies, I do know grammar school art courses brought me some magic.

mark said...

Nice photo. I like it. I am fortunate to live in a school district that supports and appreciates the arts, music, and theater very enthusiastically for all school children. A good portion of the money needed is raised by private donors and special events with 100% of the dollars going to the arts in the schools. I guess you could call it a community effort with everyone winning.

Virginia said...

J, you are on it my friend. When I retired from teaching and went through my files and boxes of thematic units, I almost wept when I realized that the last few years of my teaching career, I'd laid to rest the artist and author studies I'd done for so many years, because I had to spend so much #$%&*#@ time teaching to the SAT test. That is why I had to throw in the towel. I couldn't spend my days helping third graders practice for a standardized tests while Georgia O'Keeffe, Henri Matisse, etc. lay in a plastic box in the closet.

No Chld Left Behind.... what was left behind was the enrichment and the creativity, and the arts....
V

Petrea said...

All great comments. I'm glad to hear good news from a PUSD parent, for instance.

And thank you, Virginia. For those who don't know, Virginia was a teacher in Alabama for many years. It's helpful to hear from someone who knows from first-hand experience.

Ms M said...

Wonderful photo, and excellent commentary and comments. I'm a believer in liberal arts education rather than the narrow foci and "test teaching" that is going on now. Arts education enriches different ways of thinking and expressing, new ways of problem-solving, and relating to the world around us (and more) -- skills our world needs more than ever. These kinds of cuts are like "cutting off one's nose to spite the face". And, as several others have pointed out, the arts can literally save someone when life becomes hard, unbearable, or horrific.
Hopefully, like Sam Cooke sings, "A Change is Gonna Come....

Bellis said...

Of course, we also have to educate the parents who want their children to study only the 3 Rs, and not "play around" with paints. In the Asian community, especially, there's a strong desire for the kids to get very high SAT scores, and many have to go to after-school and weekend tutoring. It pays off, as they do really well in exams, but where's their creativity? Where's their childhood?

Shanna said...

Thank you for this heartfelt post.
And, thank you , Virginia. I know that you have been there.

I must...that is... must say though that we have to stop putting third world students into the "other" category.

I speak, that is, tppe, as a a former community college Life Drawing instuctor. Twenty-six years.
Prop 13 did me a favor. I was twenty-nothing years old and teaching Aduld Ed. Guess what...Adult Ed got cancelled. I got promoted to teaching credit classes. I continued until it became unbearable - forced to enroll 45 students in my class - most of whom did not not speak much English.

BUT...BUT... I learned sooo much from my foreign students. really.
Hispanic, Russian, Armenian, Persian... and some I had never heard of. "They", the so called others came from cultures that valued ART. "They" drew far better than my American students.

Anonymous said...

ginab:

Excellent late comments. As I mentioned to P in a side conversation yesterday, this is not a new problem.

Spoken by a former "grader" of all of Texas' 8th-grade essays for the standardized state test, from the home of No Child Left Behind, the state that regularly ranks 44-49 out of 50 in the quality of public education.

TheChieftess said...

As far as I'm concerned, we ought to dump the whole educational system and start over from scratch!!! Preferably without government interference...

I am also retired from eduction...

Virginia said...

I guess a blog is too small a format for all that i feel about our education system. it breaks my heart. On the up side, I know so many wonderful dedicated teachers here that love and care and close their doors and do what's right, but too often the outsiders dictate what they must do. I couldn't do it anymore.

Petrea said...

It is a small format but I'm glad we've talked about it.

I believe these things go in cycles. Unfortunately, sometimes the cycles are so long we don't get to see the upswing in our lifetimes. But the world is not going to hell in a handbasket. (An artisan would have to make the basket first.)