A Copernican Revolution in Arts Advocacy

I look at the issues of childhood arts education and the adult oriented ‘facts & figures’ about them as representing two very different ways of attempting to build support for the arts: We give children the opportunity to experience the arts firsthand, but then when we discuss the arts with adults we try to blow them away with rationally formulated arguments….. Does anyone else see that what was so effective in bringing the importance of the arts to children usually gets traded out for our ability to convince adults with reason? Which, we may have noticed, doesn’t always work so well with other passionate issues, like politics and religion….. And which is perhaps also why we don’t spend as much time lecturing children about the statistical or economic importance of the arts but instead give them opportunities to get a feel for what the arts are all about and give it a place in their own lives….

My point is only that rationality may have significantly less persuasive power than we are hoping for, and yet it seems to be the most significant tool we have for recruiting adults. I just wonder how many adult supporters of the arts were not profoundly moved at some stage by a personal experience of the arts? How many were converted to a belief in the importance of the arts by purely rational means? And even if we convince folks using reason, will their ties to the arts ever be as deep or as binding as ones formed through personal practical investment?

It just seems that as kids EVERYONE is an artist, and we know why the arts are important. There is no real doubt. Doubt comes later…. We don’t need to be convinced. Being creative is what we do and who we are. And yet, as adults we lose touch with those feelings and experiences which gave the arts their importance in our lives. We too often trade an active involvement in creativity and the production of art for merely the consumption of other people’s art. How well has that worked so far?

What I’m suggesting is that our adult advocacy and education seems focused on things that no child was ever enthusiastic about. And yet they WERE enthusiastic about art. If we help adults rediscover that source of enthusiasm we may have taken the single largest step forward in solving our problem. Instead of needing to find a rationally acceptable place for the arts within our communities we will find the community of arts within ourselves. Remembering that I too am an artist gives me all the motivation I need to support the arts and recognize its importance. We find art by looking towards the center. Think of it as a sort of Copernican Revolution in how we look at our advocacy (though in reverse). How do we prevent adults from forgetting that as children they were artists, and that as adults they still retain this creative capacity?

Is it any wonder that our rational advocacy either ends up preaching to the choir, those who already get art’s importance, or falling on deaf ears, those for whom art has lost all importance….? And is it any wonder that those lines divide quite neatly on the issue of what role art plays in these people’s lives?

Something to think about, at least…..

Peace all!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Copernican Revolution in Arts Advocacy

  1. An interesting article about how many professional artists are engaged in helping to bring the experience of art to underserved schhools. Well worth a read in full, but here are some interesting excerpts:

    “So what, exactly, are the children learning? “Arts education” is a wonderfully imprecise term. It holds a vague and potent promise, visions of children reveling in self-expression. But in practice, as many of us remember, it involves crayon outlines of your hands, macaroni collages, plastic recorders, unison renditions of songs from “Annie.””

    “Those who hail it as a panacea may be doomed to disappointment. It’s true that without exposure to the arts, it’s difficult to develop an interest in them. But it’s also true that many of the people who had, say, music education back in the 1960s and 1970s are the same people who are not going to orchestra concerts today. Some arts organizations will have to confront the fact that their audiences are declining because of an irrevocable shift in the culture, rather than simply a lack of education.”


    “Art isn’t always easy, or fun, or accessible. Sometimes it is about slogging along and getting a job done. Sometimes it makes for a nice change from routine. Sometimes it awakens a sense of possibilities, and if the actual experience doesn’t live up to that — if Great Art doesn’t come to your school — making a space for it to happen may prove, in the long run, the more valuable experience.”

  2. Here’s another article by the same author that also qustions the role of arts education:

    “I initially came at this story from my own beat. Over and over, I hear orchestras, in particular, blaming the decline in music education for their own declining audiences, and I see them putting more and more of their own resources into education to counteract this trend. This is, to me, a dubious claim: the decline in orchestras’ ticket sales reflects, to my mind, a general cultural shift in perception and priorities — there are so many other kinds of music to go to! — as much as a decline in education. I also think that by investing in arts education, orchestras make themselves feel like they’re doing something about a problem that needs to be addressed on a number of levels, in terms of administration, programming, artistic philosophy.”

    “But to write a whole piece debunking orchestras’ reasons for investing heavily in a very worthy cause would be unforgiveably curmudgeonly, especially when kids need arts so much and the importance of getting them more arts is so great. I may look askance at the eagerness with which orchestras have embraced the El Sistema idea, because it promotes a vision of the world the way they want to see it — see, childrens’ lives are improved by playing our music! — but I can’t find anything but praise for the energy, commitment, and results of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids program, one of more than a dozen such programs around the country. Meanwhile, it’s a relief that policy-makers in education are finally beginning to recognize the importance of the arts — now that No Child Left Behind has helped show everyone what happens when you put all of your educational eggs in only a few baskets. What this adds up to is more arts organizations (not only orchestras, of course!) trying to get involved in education, and more communities and school boards, it seems, trying to find ways to benefit from what they have to offer. ”


    The cultural shift argument is important, and perhaps no ammount of education or exposure will save particular waning institutions. If our advocacy is only oriented to saving them in particular we are likely only expending labor in a diminished if not eventually lost cause…. The big tent of the arts is quite diverse and for ITS benefit very few of those efforts are wasted.

    The issue I still see looming is that by looking at the arts mostly as a commodity worth preserving we sometimes lose sight of the arts as an activity worth doing. Are the two concerns necessarily related? Surely they overlap, but they are only contiguous to some extent…. The way I see them as coinciding is that without personal engaged investment an art form is on level footing with all other forms of passive entertainment. Tickets sold for performances may be on the decline, but that only happens when performances are treated as merely one among many possible forms of entertainment…..

    So, given these ideas and the shift in our culture, what do you all think?

  3. Here’s the comment I left on the second article:

    “Anne, I thought these two post on arts education were excellent. I also think you are on to something when you suggest that the decline in tickets sold in particular arts industries has very much to do with a shift in our culture. I’m not so sure, however, that it still doesn’t have to do with education. The issue, as I think we both see it, is that certain established art forms are under increasing competition with emerging cultural expressions. The decline in ticket sales surely reflects this. But my point would be that as long as art options are for passive entertainment only then they WILL be on a level or disadvantaged playing field. And perhaps the only way to redeem attendance is through folks’ active engagement in the arts process. It only seems logical that folks who DO a particular art will be more invested in it and support it more strongly….

    So possibly the agenda of teaching particular arts in schools is more than a bit self serving, though its side effect may also have these measurable cognitive benefits as well. And maybe also a person who grows up playing music will be more sensitive to painting and sculpture. The benefit seems at least partially transferable…. And perhaps it does make sense from an artist’s point of view that they do what it takes to preserve the tradition of their practice in an age where its consumption is under threat from every new and shiny fad that sweeps the market. Passing on that practice seems a basic and sound strategy….

    As someone who would rather live in a culture that appreciates the arts than one that does not, I feel I can only encourage these efforts. The more people who self identify as artists the more support for the arts there will be…. Or so it seems.

    Thanks for the articles!”

  4. Chris Mooney from Mother Jones:

    “The upshot: All we can currently bank on is the fact that we all have blinders in some situations. The question then becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature itself?

    Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.

    This theory is gaining traction in part because of Kahan’s work at Yale. In one study, he and his colleagues packaged the basic science of climate change into fake newspaper articles bearing two very different headlines—”Scientific Panel Recommends Anti-Pollution Solution to Global Warming” and “Scientific Panel Recommends Nuclear Solution to Global Warming”—and then tested how citizens with different values responded. Sure enough, the latter framing made hierarchical individualists much more open to accepting the fact that humans are causing global warming. Kahan infers that the effect occurred because the science had been written into an alternative narrative that appealed to their pro-industry worldview.

    You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a “culture war of fact.” In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.”

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