Two caveats

By Andras Szanto
There is no doubt that the words "arts" and "culture" are burdened with heavy ideological baggage. In American politics, they have turned into dangerous swamps in which many well-meaning art initiatives have perished. "Expressive life," by contrast, offers a new start and a bigger tent. It may prove lasting and useful. My concern is that it has a subtext of defeatism, and that it connotes a lopsided view of culture.

By defeatist, I mean that the proposition here is to evacuate the contaminated rhetorical premises of "art" and "culture"; to flee from them, rather than win them back in all their glory. As a strategy, it's like switching to "progressive" from "liberal"--clever, but ultimately a bit of a copout. Can old terms have fresh meanings? Must we leave them charred and wounded on the battlefield?

By a lop-sided view of culture, I'm referring to a definitional nuance that is more important. "Expressive life" puts the emphasis on communication, and not just any communication--projective communication. Such a view of culture--solely comprised of people and organizations broadcasting their words, sounds and images into the world--is half of what I think culture to be. For culture is about absorbing as much as it is about expressing.

Perhaps, in addition to the "expressive life," should we also consider the "receptive life"? Bill alludes to this in his in his writings in his poignant contrast of "heritage" and "voice"--but those words reflect the duality only to a point. Yes, culture is certainly about listening to the past and having a voice in the present. But is also about listening in the present and having a voice in the present. Culture is a conversation: endlessly absorbing and expressing. The words "art" and "culture" have served us well because they encompass both of these dimensions. 

January 25, 2010 5:54 AM | |


This Conversation Are the terms "Art" and "Culture" tough enough to frame a public policy carve-out for the 21st century? Are the old familiar words, weighted with multiple meanings and unhelpful preconceptions, simply no longer useful in analysis or advocacy? In his book, Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey advances "Expressive Life" as a new, expanded policy arena - a frame sufficiently robust to stand proudly beside "Work Life," "Family Life," "Education," and "The Environment." Is Ivey on the right track, or more

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