It would be a good idea

By Bau Graves
Talking about "arts education" in America brings to mind Gandhi's comment when asked what he thought about Western Civilization:  "It would be a good idea."  We haven't ever really tried anything remotely approaching comprehensive arts education in this country.  The public school system that was largely dismantled by decades of budget cuts, and is mourned by the RAND study, ignored the vast majority of art created on our planet. 

Indeed, the current public arts infrastructure, despite endless rhetoric about "diversity," remains overwhelmingly devoted to those dead European males that John Rockwell mentions.  Last year, the NEA's expenditures in support of traditional, ethnic culture totaled 7/10th of 1% of the agency's budget.  Take a look at the course catalog of any music conservatory -- even at those places with the most esteemed ethnomusicology programs, the European canon (which accounts for about 5% of the world's musical output) outnumbers the rest of the world by several orders of magnitude.  This is akin to offering a science curriculum that ends with Copernicus.

Changing this cultural myopia, in education and in the public arts arena, would require a commitment that we have never seen from educators, governments or from philanthropists.  But the alternative is more of the long cultural gray-out that Alan Lomax predicted back in 1977 and which provides a stark context for our discussion today.
December 1, 2008 8:46 AM | | Comments (1) |


It's true that it's important to teach about non-western art, but we should look at ways to incorporate both western and non-western art into a framework for arts education. For instance, one could create an art history course focusing on tracing certain basic principles of image-making througout history. In addtion, it would not be a bad idea to further emphasize inter-cultural artistic influnences, which has the additonal benefit of promoting better understanding an appeciation of other cultures.

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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

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