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Is there a Better Case for the Arts?
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March 06, 2005

Music is the Best Advocate for Music

To me, the beauty of the arts, including music, lies in its multitude of reactions, impacts, and benefits. As a result, it is not so much of a problem that there are various “findings” and "ways" being chanted to advocate for the arts. In the past, together with my students, I have examined “how” we can advocate for the arts, and music in particular. I have emphasizes this because I believe that anyone pursuing a career in music, has a responsibility to know about the business: its history, its trends, its outlook, its leaders, and its issues. Whether or not one agrees with certain ideas or opinions, it is important to know what they are. Our conclusion on this “how we can advocate for the arts” question was that we need to acquire the skill to communicate and the knowledge of data, so that after effective assessment of the situation, we can put forward the most persuasive arguments. Thus, there is no specific or single method towards supporting the arts; the best argument must be suited to the situation. But there is more. We present the argument (hopefully the right one) so that we can present an even better, convincing one.

We are not a generic mass of people. Each one of us has different histories, needs, values, priorities, tastes, desires, etc., which, over time, are all malleable, interacting with the environment. Why then, do we all have to agree all the time? Certainly, there are some shared experiences we all have or certain groups of people have, that may result in shared reactions. There are largely-shared experiences as well as selectively-shared ones. However, the less popular does not necessarily mean less valid, invalid, or worthless.

Advanced modernization seems to have taken a chip off individuality and emphasize on the rational objectivity. Technological advances have made communication more accessible and easier to use to influence others. Objective reasoning for an activity is a must. But the trend of believing in the best as the sole reason-solution to an issue simply will not do with the arts, and discovering a thousand facts to “prove” the benefits of the arts is really only sidestepping the subject.

For me, the more cases that can be presented to support the benefits of music, the better. It gives us a more diverse vocabulary and expression for the cause. And we should all learn what is being said, so that we can take advantage of it. But the real, core issue at stake is this: Why do we have to advocate for the arts in the first place? Why do we have to validate ourselves? Why do we continue to struggle to find a meaningful argument in support of the arts? How did we arrive at this slump?

Certainly, the delivery and the presentation of music must be re-examined. The case for music can be most effective when presented at the highest level (which is not quantifiable with numbers or adjectives) and granted maximum accessibility. Whatever it takes to make that possible, outreach or whatever we wish to call it, is an asset. Knowledge is power, and awareness is seductive. Different facts should support and enable us to spread the music in a way that has the strongest impact both on the community and on the individuals within it, because they may give us an opportunity to find or create the right situation (like securing funding so that we can deliver music in different places). However, ultimately, it is great music and its appropriate presentation that serve music best.

Posted by midori at March 6, 2005 05:11 PM


"The case for music can be most effective when presented at the highest level (which is not quantifiable with numbers or adjectives) and granted maximum accessibility"

Amen. This is certainly true of other fine arts as well. Given that maximum accessibility is imperative, how can people who head arts non-profits say things like that or support them when they charge exorbitant admissions fees that price out many people, particularly young people?

I'm reminded of a story the sculptor Martin Puryear tells about his childhood: He grew up in Washington, DC, a few blocks south of the National Mall. When he had free time (as kids do!) he wandered up to the Mall and made his way through a museum. He was able to do this because the museums were free and accessible.

As I look around New York, in particular, this is not even remotely the case. Non-profit managers should be working to make their offerings more accessible to a wider cross-section of the population, not less accessible (or only accessible to the middle classes and the tourist hordes).

Posted by: Tyler Green at March 7, 2005 07:07 AM

The topic of accessibility is indeed the crux of the issue. Let me give you an example that just happened to me this month.

I am a professional artist who has been working diligently in the field for the last decade. I've shown in various cities around the nation, compiled a hefty resume, (yada, yada). I even had a solo show in my hometown's museum, which is quite substantial in the region in which I live.

Although I had been represented by galleries, I must confess that I got sick and tired of the whole system and last year decided to represent myself. I wanted to bring my work to an entirely different audience, not the typical "art-going" public. I also wanted my prices to go down in order to encompass a younger, more passionate audience.

Well, I had my first sell-out show this month. I placed my work in a coffee-shop--the same shop where I'd had my first show as a young art student. I couldn't believe the response. Because of the price scale, young people snapped up the pieces, and I was pleasantly shocked to see that even some young men purchased my most biting feminist works. It was even more flabbergasting because many of these people had never seen my work or heard of me--even though I had received ample newspaper coverage for ten years and had shown in the most prestigious galleries in the area. I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to converse with people who were just fired up about what they saw, in an environment devoid of cocktails and conversation that required an MFA to understand.

I make it my policy as an artist to communicate warmly and clearly with those who view my work. I believe it the job of my art to communicate, but I also encourage questions. So many people don't go into galleries and museums because they think they'll make an ignorant comment or that their opinion of the work will be looked down upon. I think artists have forgotten that a primary part of their job is to establish connection and clear communication with their audience. Abstract and mysterious art is great, but I expect an artist to be able to speak about it clearly and thoughtfully.

I think we also need to get art out of the designated "art area" of town. Let's get rid of some of the stuffiness. I live in a moderately sized city, and I think it's interesting to note that this coffee shop was only a couple blocks away from the chic galleries--yet these people had never seen my work.

How about an art piece in a WalMart parking lot? Or in the median of a freeway? I wonder if art would start becoming important in our society if it was something that we truly lived with, rather than something only to be approached in a rarified gallery or museum.

Posted by: cory jaeger-kenat at March 9, 2005 03:56 PM

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