Have you ever come to the realization that a theme has been festering in your life? Not festering-- that's a terrible word. Incubating. Thinkubating. And you haven't purposefully sought out information or perspectives on it, but instead they seem to have come to you because of a great need you never even allowed yourself to acknowledge?
The theme that seems to be floating toward me on what Emerson would call the "currents of the Universal Being" is the simple idea that art is necessary. Art is a necessary and vital part of our human experience, and our ability to resist being human when we need to. The often-excerpted passages from Thoreau's Walden came my way, about us living meanly like ants, the urging to spend our lives observing only realities and thinking, breaking away from the habit, routine and useless gossip of daily life; Emerson's ideal of finding the unique Genius in our students and guiding them as they meet its needs; Northrup Frye's The Educated Imagination-- read that for the first time in the last year. I read This article about why the market economy model does not work in education, which rests partially on the premise that minds are NOT commodities! And then after that I read Chris Hedges' article about why the subversion of art is essential to democracy, which echoed a poem I had read at the beginning of the school year last year and really liked: Ferlinghetti's Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signalling you through the flames].
The idea that art is necessary to human experience, and also to a thriving democracy, is almost absent from mainstream curriculum mapping and standards-writing. Whenever art programs are justified, they seem to be justified in terms of their ability to prepare students for the creativity that they may have to use to do their 21st Century job. Innovation around the conference table. Or they are justified in terms of their ability to build "basic skills" like math, reading and writing. Take OMA in Tucson, for example. I respect their program and their teachers-- they've done WONDERFUL things for my children, but I don't understand why art has to be justified only in terms of basic skills or its ability to generate future income for our students. I mean, I do understand it. It's about money. And our public policy, when it comes down to it, is largely money and safety driven. It's almost impossible to explain in a language that can be taken seriously by policymakers how important it is that folks are able to appreciate a well-written poem or novel, or interpret subtleties in a work of independent film, or write those novels, or make those films. And that's too bad.
I believe the arts (visual arts, performing arts, writing) allow individuals, communities, and humanity as a collective group to, by representing ourselves, to understand ourselves and each other better, and on a level that is, perhaps, spiritual without pertaining at all to religion. The arts take us both outside of ourselves and into our imaginations, beyond the daily grind, and ask us to consider things a little more slowly, in a way that is not about budgets, mileage or calories. And goodness knows we all need to slow down a little, or the world will soon spin off its axis.