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What Is The Point Of The Arts?

24/03/2017 13:14

Two weeks ago, Donald Trump announced plans to end the National Endowment for the Arts, the federal organisation which funds and supports the arts in the US.

The New York Times reported that this is the first time a President had called for ending the endowment.

In the UK, there is a similar situation - the UK government is closing down arts A Levels, such as the A Level in Creative Writing, and EBACC is decreasing the number of students studying the arts as creative subjects are not included - I recently attended a meeting at Parliament where the decline in the number of hours spent teaching arts subjects was discussed, with one secondary school teacher talking of how they met primary school students who had never studied art or drama at their primary school.

So why do politicians not always value the arts? - here are some ideas:

1) The arts explore and question the status quo - upon founding the National Endowment for the Arts, Lyndon Johnson said: "Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish." However, to an insecure leader exploring and questioning that vision can seen as an unwanted challenge.

1) The arts offer new ideas - for example, Jane Alexander, former Director of the National Endowment for the Arts, said: "When we teach a child to sing or play the flute, we teach her how to listen. When we teach her to draw, we teach her to see. When we teach a child to dance, we teach him about his body and about space, and when he acts on stage, he learns about character and motivation. When we teach a child design, we reveal the geometry of the world. When we teach children about the folk and traditional arts and the great masterpieces of the world, we teach them to celebrate their roots and find their own place in history." However again this can be seen as contrary to accepting ideas/ the status quo.

2) The arts encourage the audience to reflect on what is going on and come to their own conclusions about whether things are right or wrong. For example, the painter Degas said, "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see".

What else is the value of the art?

2) The arts are about reflecting on what we are doing and why - and if art is about reflecting on who we were, who we are, and who we can be, surely anyone should be able to contribute to that discussion?

3) Art is about remembering who we have been in the past - and the mistakes we have made and triumphs we have achieved - to encourage us to avoid or embrace those mistakes and triumphs again. For example, one quote going around the US in terms of Trump's proposal to end the National Endowment for the Arts is Winston Churchill's advocation of the arts: "The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them....Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due."

4) The arts are about engaging an audience in a discussion with the work but also in a discussion with each other about what things are like - for example the conversations that take place on the way home from a theatre or the cinema or after a television show.

5) The arts are about trying to be better and create a better world - for example John F Kennedy said: "Aeschylus and Plato are remembered today long after the triumphs of Imperial Athens are gone. Dante outlived the ambitions of thirteenth century Florence. Goethe stands serenely above the politics of Germany, and I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over cities, we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit."

6) The arts are about sharing our own experiences. For example, the writer Maya Angelou said: " There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you."

At Central Saint Martins, on the MA Dramatic Writing I run, we are running a petition to save the A Level Creative Writing, one of the subjects hit by government policy - please sign before its too late: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/reinstate-the-creative-writing-a-level

For more information on the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martin's new campaign to increase access and diversity in the writing industry, including the petition, survey on the future of dramatic writing and new partnership with Oberon Books to provide access to leading industry writing training programmes' advice which has never been published before, please go to:https://oberonbooks.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/the-masters-at-work/

To sign the petition to save the A Level Creative Writing, please go to: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/reinstate-the-creative-writing-a-level

For more information on Donald Trump's proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, please see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/arts/nea-neh-endowments-trump.html

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