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.