Glazing Over and Moving On

By John Rockwell

Congrats to Sam Hope for his eloquent description of how buzz words fade, wraithlike, into irrelevance. I have to say that for all the deep intelligence, long experience and passionate commitment of most of the professional arts-education bloggers here, I glaze over. Too much bureaucratic insider baseball (hence my earlier reference to left field), too much abstraction, not enough practicality -- because, as several of you have pointed out, no one really knows how to foster meaningful change, at least on the K-12 level. Local initiatives make sense, given the lack of realistic hope for a national transformation. The politicians would have to get all aesthetical on us, and that's not likely to happen. The arts aren't manly.

So I will move on, shifting my attention to what I actually know something about, which is arts education for adults. Actually, I know precious little about that, too, except that just as I hated being dragged to concerts as a kid, so my hackles rise at most earnest sessions of music instruction before concerts (the "music-appreciation racket," Virgil Thomson called it). Lots of adult audiences like such lectures, though, with an cheerful, earnest expert tickling the ivories and leading them through a soon-to-be-heard score.

I prefer program notes: you can read them (or not) on your own time, and they can provide helpful background. Academically, I have my doctorate in cultural history (German, speaking of dead white European males), so I like historical context for the dreaded "aesthetic experience." Good program notes give you that, along with a formal anaylsis one hopes is not condescending yet not so technical that it sails over the humble heads of a musically illiterate audience.

As a critic, whether of classical music or dance or anything else, my tactic has always been to lead, but carefully. Express my taste, try to bring an audience along to appreciate a work I love, but not venture too far out in front of troops, cowering resentfully in the trenches.

Ultimately, be it in program notes or books or print or online criticism or even music appreciation, there is plenty that is helpful out there to fan the flames of an already kindled enthusiasm for an art form or a particular piece of art. The trick is how to initially kindle that enthusiasm, that nascent passion. Me, I don't really know how to do that, and I'm not convinced, so far, that many of our bloggers know either. To write eloquently is a start.

Maybe personal is better even than local -- the arts equivalent of the Jefferson family farm as the bedrock of democracy. If you love, say, a piece of music, find a friend who doesn't know it or doesn't even think he likes that kind of music in the first place, and play it for him. Maybe you'll see a spark, and can fan it. 

December 3, 2008 2:04 PM | | Comments (1) |


Not to get all "left field" on you... but there are strategies that have worked.

The game is not played at the federal level... it is a state issue. And state by state is how this will be played out. There have been several instances of people "in the field" that have made a difference - Legislation mandating music and arts for 350,000 kids - 500 MILLION dollars in funding for arts programs in California - Policies to protect arts education programs for 1.2 million kids in New Jersey. State strategies.

This is not abstract... this is real change... made by real people who implemented real strategies to get something done impacting millions of kids.

Nothing happens until we have fertile ground for programs to flourish. Fertile ground is tilled in the policy fields of state capitals so our teachers will have a fighting chance to provide the gift of the arts in the one place where most of our children gather... in schools.

The greatest artist in residency program we have in the US is the one that takes place every day as more than 200,000 artists take up residency in our classrooms at their day jobs as... qualified arts educators.

Quick fact... 85% of all music makers (of any flavor, shape or size) start between the ages of 5 and 14. And 85% of these music makers get their first musical start in schools.

So for all the problems we seem to find in arts education in our schools (and I certainly understand that we have some) the practical reality is, for all the problems music... and to a large degree visual art have actually made significant contributions in engaging young people with the arts.

We do not need to trash what is there... we need to find ways to make it better and bring it to even more kids in meaningful and more relevant ways.

To torture an already tortured phrase... let not the good become the victim of the pursuit of the perfect.

Leave a comment


This Conversation For decades, as teaching of the arts has been cut back in our public schools, alarms have been raised about the dire consequences for American culture. Artists and arts organizations stepped in to try to... more

Our Bloggers

Sam Hope, executive director, The National Office for Arts Accreditation (NOAA);
Jack Lew, Global University Relations Manager for Art Talent at EA;
Laura Zakaras, RAND;
James Cuno, Director, Art Institute of Chicago;
Richard Kessler, Executive Director, Center for Arts Education;
Eric Booth, Actor;
Midori, Violinist;
Bau Graves, Executive director, Old Town School of Folk Music;
Kiff Gallagher, Founder & CEO of the Music National Service Initiative and MusicianCorps
Bennett Reimer, Founder of the Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience, author of A Philosophy of Music Education;
Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at The Wallace Foundation;
Moy Eng, Program Director of the Performing Arts Program at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation;
John Rockwell, critic;
Susan Sclafani, Managing Director, Chartwell Education Group;
Jane Remer, Author, Educator, Researcher
Michael Hinojosa, General Superintendent, Dallas Independent School District 
Peter Sellars, director


Contact us Click here to send us an email... more

Peter Sellars on Creativity & the Voice more

Archives: 83 entries and counting


Blog Sponsor


Recent Comments

Bob Morrison commented on Glazing Over and Moving On: Not to get all "left field" on you... but there are strategies that have wo...