Sunday, January 25, 2009

The future of art

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday, an accomplished potter and woodworker who has combined his two skills and aesthetic vision into beautifully crafted sculpture. He says that there is a serious decline in sales in the world of the arts. Sales at craft shows are down. Sales in galleries are down. Some small galleries are going out of business. When a gallery goes down the artists they represent are hurt. Their incomes plummet. In a small town like Eureka Springs where we have more artists than other professionals, the loss of income effects many other small businesses as well.

My friend is turning his attention to making smaller things that can be sold at a lower price.

We think of the artist's work as being the making of the objects they sell. And yet the objects are mere symbols of creative process. The artist, when he (or she) is truly engaged in art, and not just the unconscious replication of earlier work, is performing a role in society that lifts it to new levels of consciousness, deepens our understanding of material and design, and brings other elements of societal concern into clearer focus. I could go a bit deeper in this with examples, but know that you will come up with your own.

There is another possibility, beyond cheapening works and lowering the price of objects to boost sales through lean times. It is the process of teaching others to create. It is the greater work, and is filled with opportunity for personal creative exploration. It is challenging, but offers great rewards.

I have heard very little more said of Obama's "Artist Corp", and I have hopes it will not be forgotten. The best bailout for the arts will come when more and more artists and musicians are empowered to take their rightful places in schools across this land to share their creative energies with our children, and when art and craft schools like Penland, Arrowmont, and ESSA are better empowered to serve those adults hoping to rediscover the creative capacity of their own hands.

I had a very good friend, Louis Freund, who was an artist, painting murals in post offices for the WPA during the "great depression." The work he did then shaped his life as an arts educator. He and his wife Elsie left an important legacy here in my town, through their ceaseless advocacy of historic preservation and the arts.

We are facing challenging times. And we are ready for a rebirth of arts education in America. The thing that few seem to know in schools today and that we have the responsibility to tell is that arts and crafts and other work of the hands including music have the potential to lift the whole of American education to a new level. As is often said, the Chinese symbol for crisis and opportunity are the same, and renewal of education in America is the silver lining to the dark clouds on the economic horizon. But we all need to work hard to make this story come true.

No comments:

Post a Comment