Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Art and the American Dream

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”-Pablo Picasso

Why is this important?  Why are the arts important?  Why should we care if we remain artists when we grow up?
Arts programs are often the first on the chopping block when budget cuts are deemed necessary in public schools. Funding for the arts in the US is considered nonessential when compared with all the problems we face - like hunger, poverty, violence, bullying, homelessness.  Private funding for the arts is often spread too thin among many worthy projects. While funding for wars seems to be a bottomless pit, funding for the arts and humanities is always at risk.
Outwardly it appears that our society doesn't truly support the arts and creativity,  yet creative thinking is now more essential than ever. Research shows that "students who are exposed to music education do better in other subjects." CEOs know that creatiity is essential to success. Applying our creativity may be the only way to restore our long gone "American Dream".  I say “long gone” because if you look at what the US has done in the past, and our current situation, it is difficult to support the idea that we are living the American Dream.  And exactly what was this American Dream? Is it the ideal that every US citizen  " should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative"?    
Or is it more than that? This dream is rooted in the idea that freedom is our birthright, as stated in the US Declaration of Independence.    James Truslow Adams in 1931 said that "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth." 
It would seem that both freedom and creativity have in fact been discouraged by our system.  Why? What good can come of this?  We used to talk about "American ingenuity", prided ourselves on our inventiveness.  One cannot nurture creativity without freedom.  The best way to stifle creativity is through authoritarianism, the pressure towards blind obedience. 
"Creativity is nurtured by freedom and stifled by the continuous monitoring,  . . . pressure to conform that restrict children's lives today" and I would venture to say in adult's lives today. Peter Gray Article in Psychology Today: As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity 
A research report by Kyung Hee Kim, mentioned in Peter Gray’s Article in Psychology Today, shows a decline of creativity in school children in the US over the last several decades.  In Kim’s words, the data indicate that “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”
Every one of us is creative.  It's the nature of life - to create. Freedom is a big part of creativity, being free within one's self and free thinking is crucial in order to access creativity.   But through years of schooling, our upbringing, we're essentially taught to conform, to fit in with standardized testing, homogenization of thought --  even in the arts, music, and creative fields.  We're living on the brink of an authoritarian maximum security society with fear as the foundation.  Money and the acquisition of power have become the primary focus, as more and more middle and working class people slip into poverty.   
Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.Had creative thinking rather than money/power thinking been used during the Fukushima, Katrina and other disasters,  the tragedies would have been lessened.
Life is tenacious - think of the blade of grass that pushes through the cement.   Creation is not something that can be contained, nor can the desire to be free.  Whether your belief system is based on spiritual or worldly views, you are alive and unique, you are constantly creating, your cells are creating, your mind is creating.  To open yourself up to creative thought is a holistic opening -- your heart, your mind, your body, your intrinsic Self-ness, call it Soul, call it whatever you like.   Every moment, awake or asleep, you are a Creative Being.  
It doesn't matter what you were taught; this is a base reality.  Now, all you have to do is get those belief systems (BS) out of the way.
There is hope through awareness and action. We can influence and change the conversation.   In 2012 the LA Unifed School District voted to make the arts a core subject.  This is a tangible goal, and with a little bit of rallying, organization, any small group in any city can do this.   President Obama attempted to restore federal funding for some large arts organizations when their funding was on the chopping block.  It was not as much a step in the right direction, as it was to prevent existing funding from slipping away.  There are examples from across the US of dedicated individuals and groups trying to preserve access and funding for the arts.  Whether amateur or professional, we need to build a society in which every person can fully express their potential; the arts and creativity play an essential role in the future of our attempt at self governance and a more civil society.