Every morning we wake up to the newest perversion of our language — right is left, news is fake, pop is art — all now acceptable and beyond most people’s comprehension. How did it become so out of control?
As I begin my first blog, I find that the topics I wish to write about cannot be divorced from the current state of U.S. and world affairs. I have made my life in the arts, which has taken me on unexpected and wonderful paths. Many musicians travel, meet colleagues from other countries, represent their country artistically, and are unofficial ambassadors of their nation’s cultural life. Each artist develops a worldview that is informed by his or her experiences.
My interaction with the global environment has been shaped by artistic projects in Vietnam, Europe, and Mexico. In numerous discussions with foreign friends over many cups of delicious coffee, we have shared how politics shape the cultural world. The election of one person as a country’s leader affects funding opportunities, cultural exchange, and access to education and travel. I can certainly speak first hand to the stress involved with gaining visas for visiting artists!
My blog commences with the power of words because I feel strongly that the issues we face in education and the arts are the result of incorrect definitions. When we confuse art with entertainment, imitation with innovation, business skills with creativity skills, we are bewildered and find it difficult to solve problems with new ideas.
Looking at the confusion in language that we are experiencing, I cannot help but trace this over my lifetime as I watched cultural literacy and arts education decline. When I examine my education, I was read books aloud by my earliest teachers, sang songs with a piano in every classroom, learned to read music in third grade and produced school plays. We drew pictures, went to museums on field trips, and gym class even included some dancing! I looked forward to school every day with all of its subjects, including English, math and science. This wonderful environment inspired me to try new things and embrace everything the world had to offer.
This background, combined with many other experiences, encouraged me to pursue the arts as a career. However, the realities of a musician’s life made me investigate other possible directions. From my family’s small wholesale grocery business and my husband’s family restaurant, I observed firsthand the challenges and rewards of self-employment. We set up our own non-profit business with the best intentions, as do all founders of arts and social service organizations. We have never looked back as our path developed over the years in unforeseen directions. Whether it was performing in Vienna, Hanoi or Mexico City, we have had the privilege of viewing the arts from a larger perspective.
However, it is a challenge in our current political climate to keep our good humor and not bury our heads in the sand. Our country’s environment has changed a great deal since I began my professional career. What I see lacking today is inspiration that encourages and cultivates the highest human characteristic — creativity. We all wish for informed and compassionate leadership that seeks to improve the lives of everyone and make the world a better place. Arts and culture demonstrate the powerful achievements of the human mind. Great art is timeless and inspires over many generations. What I see right now is confusion and sadness at how far we have moved backwards.
I feel that language is a crucial component of our world’s current situation. When definitions change without deeper understanding, confusion is the result. Poor leaders thrive on this confusion and encourage it daily. Fortunately some in the media are responding by uncovering lies and hidden agendas. I think it is to everyone’s benefit to examine what is behind these changing definitions.
I especially observed over time that arts definitions were changing for the worse, often misrepresenting or watering down meaning. Decades ago, many major newspapers had multiple reviewers for arts events, Arts and Culture was an entire section of the daily paper, cultural events received ongoing coverage, and there was balance between arts, movies and sports. Now we have few if any reviewers, an Entertainment section with minimal cultural coverage, Arts and Culture encompasses video games, personalities and gossip, and sports reporting appears as “Top News.” Some of this has developed from the cultural world itself where orchestras now focus on Pops entertainment, museums present designers, and many cultural events take place in sports arenas.
Education has also declined in its content and applicability to the work environment. It seems to me that inspirational events in a student’s life are minimal and all too rare. Cultural and artistic accomplishments that provide the inspiration for a fulfilling life are missing in action.
The power of words and their definitions became apparent to me with each passing year. Words matter a great deal when choosing the right way to express myself in a foreign language, explaining the purpose of a new project in a funding application, teaching new concepts to young musicians overseas or convincing a donor to support our non-profit organization. Whether it is expressing sympathy during a tragedy, or joy as a result of success, what we say has lasting impact and is not easily forgotten.
What I describe in my book as our Age of Entertainment is the result of many decades of movement away from inspirational education into a focus on profit, marketing and the mind numbing overload of new technology. This will probably not change. But I have to be hopeful that there are numerous ways we can inject more creativity and inspiration into our lives. The purpose behind my writing is to help the conversation develop.
As I continue to explore these issues, I will try to portray positive solutions through examples by creative artists. I have been fortunate to perform and travel to Mexico many times, forming special friendships with musicians, composers, and artists. My future blogs will contain many stories about these people and places. The works of art above are excerpts from stunning murals in Mexico City. This amazing city is filled with art, especially the murals by Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros and others that cannot travel outside of the country. These large murals fill the walls of civic buildings, public spaces and museums, portraying the history and culture of Mexico to inspire everyone on a daily basis.
I look forward to sharing my journey with you!
Right on target, Jan!