Monday, January 30, 2012

Art, Artists, and the Soul of America

There’s been a lot of talk this week, in the wake of the State of the Union address, about Steve Jobs telling President Obama, “Those jobs aren’t coming back.” People are finally catching on to the ideas that 1) we need to have blue collar jobs housed here in America, and 2) we are going to have to invent an entirely new type of manufacturing to do it. This should not come as any surprise to anyone …except perhaps Congress who seems to think job creation is going of materialize out of thin air, and we’re going to retrain millions of unemployed workers for those magical mystical jobs.

Emma Simon
Misha Siegfried
Those, however,  aren’t the jobs I got stuck thinking about. I got stuck thinking about three of Bessie Simon’s great-grandchildren: the senior son, Misha, who’s about to release a new album this week, his little cousin Emma Simon who just got a teaching license when a corner of her soul would rather be singing her lungs out on a stage someplace, and their older cousin, Erik Simon, who, despite a law degree, is making his way as an axe-man in New York City. 

ErikSimon  (left)
Ariel Strasser
I was thinking about the children of our friends: Ariel Strasser finishing at Boston Conservatory but cutting demos as fast as she can, Jeffrey Baldinger in LA who is working his way through comedy clubs, and Jacob Grun who plays in all sorts of bands while running his own studio. All of them know art doesn’t come with health insurance, and in fact, neither do a lot of the day jobs. They take gigs as they come. They revel in applause; it’s air in their lungs; it’s the very sound of breathing.

We hear Madonna  and we think all singers have it made. They do not. We see Tom Hanks and think all actors are paid that way. They are not. And we read J.K. Rowling and think all authors get rich from royalties. We do not. Too many journey-people plying their crafts not only aren’t rich from their efforts, they live on a fragile shoestring.  You know that old saw, “Don’t quit your day job?”  Well, most of us cannot afford to quit our day jobs to pursue our craft full time even if we wanted to. That doesn’t mean we’re not good at what we do, it means we’re just not famous ….yet.

Jacob Grun
In the midst of this, the pathway to artistic expression is being strangled.  Cuts in education have curtailed art and music in more schools that not…usually unemploying artists who are trying to keep that day job. In the process, we stop teaching our kids to write, much less wright creatively. We will lose untold numbers of musicians because they will never get to try that clarinet or violin, or sing in a chorus. If Mozart was a kid in your average American inner city school, it’s pretty unlikely he would’ve become the Mozart we know….because he would not have had the opportunity to explore music.

Jeffrey Baldinger
Art, music, theater, poetry, creative writing….all these things used to be introduced in grade school. We are raising a generation who has never had a school assembly where a children’s theatre troop has come to perform.  They’ve never set foot in a museum because schools can no longer afford field trips. Kids who have never been in a museum are less likely to visit them as adults. No exposure will ultimately result in the slow death of many of our cherished cultural institutions because we are not developing audiences to support them.

Nor are kids developing the ability to sit through something that doesn’t rise and fall in 7 minute cycles, the action time between commercials. Already we see people texting or playing ANGRY BIRDS while sitting in a theater because they can’t concentrate that long on a live performance or a film. Their attention span is frighteningly narrow.

In the quest for more jobs and new technology, we cannot lose sight of another whole classification of seemingly old-fashioned jobs that still deserve our notice, not to mention our support. We need artists, writers, composers, singers and the rest. There need to be grants to encourage creative endeavors, but at the same time we must continually educate our kids and communities that art is an intrinsic part of our cultural heritage and must be supported by attendance, community membership, and most important, active participation.

As we continue the conversation about where to spend our tax dollars, we should not be excising art, music and literature from their places at the table. We do need more engineers, we do need more scientists, but at the same time we need those people who provide entertainment, beauty, and relief from the daily grind.

Lose artists, and lose the soul of our unique American expression. Without it, we are flat and colorless; and once gone, we will not be able to PhotoShop it back into the picture.

Wifely Person S Tip O'the Week
Instead of taking in a picture show, buy a ticket to a live performance.  
Just like being there doesn't compare to actually being there.


  1. Well done.

    We non-artists need you guys.


  2. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. You said it SO WELL, Susan.
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Here's my affirmation of your word:

    I’m looking for a poem to save my life
    a curve of reality hidden from my view
    metaphors hinting at heaven
    an image to cure my world

    I’m searching with curious thought
    for jewels among common stones
    for mysteries that burst with life
    ideas yet to be born

    I’m reaching for redemption’s hand
    among desperation and worthless pursuits
    for purity in its rawest form
    a sanctuary where grace is stored

    So I grasp the sky and shake the sun
    part the ocean and step within
    I probe the mind of the waiting pen
    immersed in contraband dreams of man

    I’m looking for a poem to save my life
    a sail filled with infinite wind
    a vessel traversing the boundaries of sense
    carrying words that unveil my world

  3. We need artists, musicians, poets, and writers to help us understand the senseless and incomprehensible, celebrate the magnificent, and record the mundane. To not give these tools of expression to our young, or worse devalue those who master the arts, is a sad cultural shift.

  4. Great Post. I wish more people thought about these issues as you do.

    As a creative, I have noticed in recent years that most people do not recognize or respect the processes involved in creating something whether it is a oil painting, a poem, a radio jingle or an advertising campaign. The consensus now from most is that there is a big red button and once that button is depressed, POOF! a completed project that exists solely to the delight of the consumer. Add to that the ignorance and short attention span of most people, that previous delight becomes momentary and fleeting.

    A well rounded education, one with arts, music, theatre and creative writing along with the basics, gives rise to a literate, informed and involved electorate. Our intellectually dishonest "leaders" realized long ago that in order to advance their personal and corporate agendas, the masses need to be asleep occasionally waking in order to show interest in "america's latest idol" or the newest electronic gadget.