Remarks by Dana Gioia on Arts Education

I received this through an email list and wanted to share it:

IN THE FRAY: The Impoverishment of American Culture Remarks delivered by Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts in his Stanford Commencement Address on July 17, 2007 There is an experiment I’d love to conduct. I’d like to survey a cross-section of Americans and ask them how many active NBA players, Major League Baseball players, and “American Idol” finalists they can name. Then I’d ask them how many living American poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects, classical musicians, conductors and composers they can name. I’d even like to ask how many living American scientists or social thinkers they can name. Fifty years ago, I suspect that along with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax, most Americans could have named, at the very least, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, Georgia O’Keeffe, Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price and Frank Lloyd Wright. Not to mention scientists and thinkers like Linus Pauling, Jonas Salk, Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead and especially Dr. Alfred Kinsey. I don’t think that Americans were smarter then, but American culture was. Even the mass media placed a greater emphasis on presenting a broad range of human achievement. I grew up mostly among immigrants, many of whom never learned to speak English. But at night watching TV variety programs like the Ed Sullivan Show, I saw — along with comedians, popular singers and movie stars — classical musicians like Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, opera singers like Robert Merrill and Anna Moffo, and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong captivate an audience of millions with their art. The same was true of literature. I first encountered Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, Lillian Hellman and James Baldwin on general-interest TV shows. All of these people were famous to the average American — because the culture considered them important. Today no working-class kid would encounter that range of arts and ideas in the popular culture. Almost everything in our national culture, even the news, has been reduced to entertainment, or altogether eliminated. The loss of recognition for artists, thinkers and scientists has impoverished our culture in innumerable ways, but let me mention one. When virtually all of a culture’s celebrated figures are in sports or entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young. There are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child’s imagination, and we’ve relinquished that imagination to the marketplace. I have a reccurring nightmare. I am in Rome visiting the Sistine Chapel. I look up at Michelangelo’s incomparable fresco of the “Creation of Man.” I see God stretching out his arm to touch the reclining Adam’s finger. And then I notice in the other hand Adam is holding a Diet Pepsi. When was the last time you have seen a featured guest on David Letterman or Jay Leno who isn’t trying to sell you something? A new movie, a new TV show, a new book or a new vote? Don’t get me wrong. I have a Stanford MBA and spent 15 years in the food industry. I adore my big-screen TV. The productivity and efficiency of the free market is beyond dispute. It has created a society of unprecedented prosperity. But we must remember that the marketplace does only one thing — it puts a price on everything. The role of culture, however, must go beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us. There is only one social force in America potentially large and strong enough to counterbalance this commercialization of cultural values, our educational system. Traditionally, education has been one thing that our nation has agreed cannot be left entirely to the marketplace — but made mandatory and freely available to everyone. At 56, I am just old enough to remember a time when every public high school in this country had a music program with choir and band, usually a jazz band, too, sometimes even an orchestra. And every high school offered a drama program, sometimes with dance instruction. And there were writing opportunities in the school paper and literary magazine, as well as studio art training. I am sorry to say that these programs are no longer widely available. This once visionary and democratic system has been almost entirely dismantled by well-meaning but myopic school boards, county commissioners and state officials, with the federal government largely indifferent to the issue. Art became an expendable luxury, and 50 million students have paid the price. Today a child’s access to arts education is largely a function of his or her parents’ income. In a time of social progress and economic prosperity, why have we experienced this colossal cultural decline? There are several reasons, but I must risk offending many friends and colleagues by saying that surely artists and intellectuals are partly to blame. Most American artists, intellectuals and academics have lost their ability to converse with the rest of society. We have become wonderfully expert in talking to one another, but we have become almost invisible and inaudible in the general culture. This mutual estrangement has had enormous cultural, social and political consequences. America needs its artists and intellectuals, and they need to re-establish their rightful place in the general culture. If we could reopen the conversation between our best minds and the broader public, the results would not only transform society but also artistic and intellectual life. There is no better place to start this rapprochement than in arts education. How do we explain to the larger society the benefits of this civic investment when they have been convinced that the purpose of arts education is to produce more artists, which is hardly a compelling argument to the average taxpayer? 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. This is not happening now in American schools. What are we to make of a public education system whose highest goal seems to be producing minimally competent entry-level workers? The situation is a cultural and educational disaster, but it also has huge and alarming economic consequences. If the U.S. is to compete effectively with the rest of the world in the new global marketplace, it is not going to succeed through cheap labor or cheap raw materials, nor even the free flow of capital or a streamlined industrial base. To compete successfully, this country needs creativity, ingenuity and innovation. It is hard to see those qualities thriving in a nation whose educational system ranks at the bottom of the developed world and has mostly eliminated the arts from the curriculum. Marcus Aurelius believed that the course of wisdom consisted of learning to trade easy pleasures for more complex and challenging ones. I worry about a culture that trades off the challenging pleasures of art for the easy comforts of entertainment. And that is exactly what is happening — not just in the media, but in our schools and civic life. 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. Even family communication is breaking down as members increasingly spend their time alone, staring at their individual screens. 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. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories or songs or images. Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions. 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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Not falling far from the Bush

BBC Radio does a story about a planned coup by a group of right wing businessmen, including Prescott Bush.

The coup was aimed at toppling President Franklin D Roosevelt with the help of half-a-million war veterans. The plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families in America, (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell Hse & George Bush’s Grandfather, Prescott) believed that their country should adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great depression. Mike Thomson investigates why so little is known about this biggest ever peacetime threat to American democracy.

I haven’t listened to this yet, because I’m at work at can’t, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to check it out tonight.

Follow this link for the show. (via Boing Boing; requires Real Audio)

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Writin’ & Fightin’

Write Fight is back and I’ve entered into this weeks battle! The challenge was to write a story using the title: “Death Comes with ________” where each writer could fill in the blank or use the word “Bananas.”

I chose to write a story called “Death Comes with Jeff.” If you can take a few minutes to head on over to Write Fight and read the stories and decide that mine is the best and vote for me . . . well, I’d be mighty appreciative.

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Rich, White & Stupid

. . . But very, very scary!!

An amazing report from The National Review’s cruise: a bunch of rich, white, reactionary, neo-cons who don’t bother to censor themselves and say things like:

A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. “Is he your only child?” I ask. “Yes,” she says. “Do you have a child back in England?” she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. “You’d better start,” she says. “The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they’ll have the whole of Europe.”


I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, ” Of course, we need to execute some of these people,” I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. “A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country,” she says. “Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that’s what you’ll get.” She squints at the sun and smiles. ” Then things’ll change.”


“The civilised countries should invade all the oil-owning places in the Middle East and run them properly. We won’t take the money ourselves, but we’ll manage it so the money isn’t going to terrorists.”

You know, I’m realizing that these people are probably scarier than we could ever imagine them to be.

Check it out: Neocons on a Cruise: What Conservatives Say When They Think We Aren’t Listening, by Johann Hari.

(hat tip to Boing Boing for the link)

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Read This: A great Mother Jones article about Iraq

I just read an amazing piece in Mother Jones: “The Way to Go In Iraq,” by Peter Galbraith. I’ll be honest, I am against the war, have been from the beginning, yet I don’t really know what is going on over there. I hear about “benchmarks” but don’t know what those benchmarks might be or why the Iraqi government isn’t meeting them. I have a vague understanding of conflict between Shiites & Sunnis . . . and an even vaguer notion of how the Kurds fit into the picture. In part, this lack of knowledge and understanding can be laid at the feet of mainstream media and the elevation of soundbyte rhetoric over analysis, and histrionics over reasoned debate. In part, however, my ignorance is my own fault, for not seeking out the information–which is available if you take some time to find it.

However, while reading “The Way to Go in Iraq” has certainly made me more aware of my ignorance, it certainly provided me with a great deal more knowledge about the situation and the complexities in Iraq. Covering such issues as the constitution, to how Kurdistan works, to how our military and politic mistakes have given Iran far more influence in the region than we would like to admit.

I highly recommend this article for a couple of reasons. First, so you can gain knowledge. Second, so you can compellingly dispute some of the arguments made for the continuation of the war. Third, so that we can short-circuit all those politicians and pundits who want to blame the American public for losing the war. As Galbraith points out,

Tellingly, the Iraq war’s intellectual boosters, while insisting the surge is working, are moving to assign blame for defeat. And they have already picked their target: the American people. In The Weekly Standard, Tom Donnelly, a fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote, “Those who believe the war is already lost—call it the Clinton-Lugar axis—are mounting a surge of their own. Ground won in Iraq becomes ground lost at home.” Lugar provoked Donnelly’s anger by noting that the American people had lost confidence in Bush’s Iraq strategy as demonstrated by the Democratic takeover of both houses of Congress. (This “blame the American people” approach has, through repetition, almost become the accepted explanation for the outcome in Vietnam, attributing defeat to a loss of public support and not to fifteen years of military failure.)

Ending the war will not be a sign of weakness. Losing the war was not the fault of the American people, but of the inept and disastrous policies pursued by an ignorant, willfully stubborn, knowingly deceitful, and dangerously narrow-minded administration. The more we learn about those policies, the more we the people take the time to understand the consequences of our “decider’s” decisions, the easier it will be to shut down the reactionary, neo-conservative, war-mongering rhetoric that still spews from the mouths of too many of our elected officials.

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Blog Structure

So, a few weeks ago I made a big deal about how I was going to do daily entries and that each day would have it’s own topic. While I wasn’t 100% on that commitment, I was trying to keep up with if for about 3 weeks. Then, last week I stopped doing it. Why? Several reasons. The first is that I am supposed to be working on a novel and I don’t need any other writing assignments cluttering up my time and my head . . . especially because it takes very little to rationalize putting of working on the novel. The second is that I was hoping that by providing some structure to the blog, I might encourage more readership and/or participation. This didn’t happen. Maybe I should have given it more time, I know. But since I seemed to actually receive some comments before I started this experiment and only one–and he wanted something referenced in the post–after I started the more structured approach, so incentive to provide structure was practically non-existent.

Finally, I have accepted that, at least for now, this site is not going to reach out to many people and that I need to use it for my own amusement as well as a place to store samples of my work. I know that a few of you read the site, and I appreciate it.

Basically, what this means is a return to entries happening on a haphazard schedule, and dedicated to whatever-the-hell topic I want to write about at the moment.

GRRR!! Can’t get the bullets removed from my pages list!

If anyone can make a suggestions, I would hugely appreciate it. Here’s what I think is the necessary code:

From the CSS:

/*** NavBar Format ***/ #Nav { margin-top: 8px; padding: 0; list-style: inline; float: right; font-family: Calibri, Verdana, Trebuchet, Arial, Sans-Serif; font-size: 14px; margin-right: 12px; } #Nav li { float: left; color: #fff; } #Nav li.first a{ color: #fff; text-decoration: none; } #Nav a { float: right; padding: 0 5px 0 5px; text-align: center; line-height: 30px; text-decoration: none; color: #fff; width: 80px; } #Nav a:hover { text-decoration: none; color: #D83B00; }

And from the Header:

<div id=”Nav”> <ul> <li class=”page_item”><a href=”<?php bloginfo(‘url’); ?>”>Home</a></li> <?php wp_list_pages(‘title_li=’); ?> </ul> </div>

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New Music

A very dark and scary piece that I created tonight using Garageband loops and samples from the Freesound Project.

Voices Decay and the City Screams a Death as Alien Crystal Bleeds

Samples used include:

plagasul – “grito matriz” cognito – “perceptu_schoolyard” fabe – “bigben_5_uhr_5_a_clock_my_grandmas_clock” meatball4u – “explode4”

the “All Dead” Sample is a supposedly real EVP of a ghost – can’t remember where I got it from, but will try to track down the source. Yes, I know the title is a bit over-the-top and pretentious. So sue me.

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Playing the Negative: Theatre as “Not . . . But”

It’s a Brechtian thing, but as I was writing a story, I realized that I have a habit of noting when characters do not say or do something. If every decision we make is, in one sense at least, a negation of all the other possibilities we might have chosen, how do you represent this on stage? What happens in the mind and/or body of an actor if you attempt to tell the story of all those possibilities that are not pursued, choices not chosen? What kind of training is necessary? I was talking to one of the founding members of Everything Smaller yesterday–we were both doing our Coop shift–and I mentioned that a number of the characters in my plays need to be played by dancers, by people trained to fill negative space, to be able to move without moving, to be able to inhabit movement even when still. Something about a dancer’s training seems more suited to the embodiment of this “not . . . but” aspect to my characters. I think one of the reasons most theatre bores me is because I’m more interested in what was unsaid, unchosen, unfulfilled, than in what a character does or says or achieves.

Mmm, there’s something not quite complete in that assessment, but the outlines of what I’m trying to say are this:

the moment of drama, of conflict, is the moment a character forecloses upon the multitude of choices available to her. negative space is as, or sometimes more, interesting as objects/shapes in space. to show movement while being still is to show a true manifestation of desire. Butoh, more often than other art forms I am aware of, achieves the naked revelation of what is not. every choice represents the death of choice. i want to write and see plays that are aware of how this manifests through the human mind and body, what tensions it creates, how it shapes a person and how the ghosts of possibility haunt space.

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