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Is there a Better Case for the Arts?
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March 09, 2005

From the "media" perspective

One element we haven't really addressed directly yet is the role of the professional argument makers in addressing the value of the arts. That would be journalists, arts journalists who regularly attend and review performances and exhibitions, and journalists who are engaged with improving civic life through editorializing and opinion columns. I've spent some time doing both kinds of work, reviewing music, and working for the editorial page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, making arguments for maintaining architectural landmarks, supporting arts groups, and rebuilding the fabric of downtown life. As an editorial writer, I often fought a kind of blank despair. We would craft arguments (using every rhetorical resource we could muster, instrumental, intrinsic, etc.) that seemed crushingly convincing, we'd send them out into the world, and nothing would change. It was good training in the frustrations of a one-sided conversation, which I imagine is what many in the business of promoting the arts feel, day to day. As a music critic, I rarely engaged with anything so bluntly promotional as a direct argument about the merits, uses, values, of great music. It seemed to me that my role was to demonstrate the relevance of music, rather than argue for it. And that demonstration came in the form (I hoped) of lively, regular reviewing. Which leads me to the one real point I have to add to the previous entries about the experimental vitality of the non-profit arts sector. There are a lot of "arguments" with the public about art going on at every level, in all sorts of different media. Television advertisments that make an evening out at the theater a glamorous thing are a kind of argument. And reviewing is an argument as well. If you want to harness the demonstrative power of the critical "argument," you have to provide critics something interesting to talk about. There's a reason why critics rarely cover community choruses, dinner theater, and so forth. Not because we think the world would be better without them, but because they give us so little material with which to engage a thinking public.

Posted by pkennicott at March 9, 2005 11:50 AM


If one size doesn't fit all then we might look at the consumption of art as a spiritual need. Target and the big box stores test their products with focus groups. I am tone deaf so my spirit is not moved as much by music. When a child I was called "eagle eye" because I could spot a pin in a lawn. The gifts we have as humans might lead us to the arts.

Logic tells me that while many like what I make few can afford to pay for the time it takes me to produce a painting or sculpture. When I show in an exhibit at a non profit I am proud to be included. The affirmation wears thin when I return home and have to pay my bills. If more people see my art it still doesn't change my income.

When artists were shamans they were cared for by the community. Today one seems to need a product line to market. Twenty paintings of the same look to fill a space....

This discussion has been terrific. I've been challenged to try and follow all the threads.

Posted by: Charles Hankin at March 9, 2005 01:48 PM

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