The A word

By Eric Booth

KIff, I think the traditional canon vs. non-traditional music focus is as red herring an issue as arts skill building vs. arts integration. Yes, we pour energy into these seeming dichotomies (and I think other fields that happen to notice us are glad we do because it diffuses our potential force for change when we circle the wagons and shoot at other). I try to follow the challenge of David Bohm, the great physicist of the 20th century who said that any time you see seeming polarities, look for the greater truth that contains them both. I think we all know something about these greater truths, but we are not aiming for them.

I am not convinced Americans will ever value a serious commitment to the arts as a high priority of American life, as Laura posits the challenge--certainly not the way we define the arts so narrowly in this country--and if no change in that, there will never be any real change in the status quo of arts education. I think we need to tap that deeper agreement area about the arts where all Americans live the value of the arts but don't call them arts. Where we engage fully as humans. Where we pour ourselves into a task because we are intrinsically motivated to make something beautiful of it, even if it is a Thanksgiving table setting or conversation with a friend or report to a business committee. This is the deeper place that "art" has always come to life in, including the art of bricklaying, and it is about a pouring of the individual self into an enabling constraint in any medium (rondo form, 8 by 10 piece of paper, 5 paragraph essay, scientific method), about taking a skill or craft to a high level of expression, about inquiring and exploring in original ways and coming to new discoveries. And more.

The default definition of "art" is a huge problem for us--it puts us into a frame with many limiting associations, associations that are NOT true in the "artistry" people know, value and apply throughout their lives. I dream of an arts education that explicitly attends to these deeper, universal capacities, as it develops those skills, largely through arts media because they are more responsive, eloquent and rewarding than other media for exactly these skills.

December 2, 2008 5:14 AM | | Comments (3) |


I think this hits the nail on the head - the definition of 'art' is a problem and is what holds back any forward movement. So long as the arts are seen in a narrow scope how can it be brought across the curriculum? How can it be integrated? How can administrators see the wide and expansive skill set that the arts provides for students?

These questions of definition occur partly because of the many ways in which arts and arts education takes place. You've got the disciplines, ever changing, lines blurring; you've got the originating versus interpretive, and of course, the combination of the two; you've got the professional versus the amateur; you've got discipline based or centered, versus integrated--both in a an educational framework, and more and more in how the arts are being created and performed by cross disciplinary artists. Not to mention youth development, in-school, after school, community-based, traditional versus non-traditional.

It's a kaleidoscope, and you can find virtually all of the different kinds somewhere in some school and community setting.

Eric, Richard Baker from Louisiana also cautioned about red herrings. I gotta jump out now but will try to swirl back into the convo tonight (west coast time). Thank you! Kiff

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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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Lindsay Price commented on The A word: I think this hits the nail on the head - the definition of 'art' is a probl...

Richard Kessler commented on The A word: These questions of definition occur partly because of the many ways in whic...

Kiff Gallagher commented on The A word: Eric, Richard Baker from Louisiana also cautioned about red herrings. I got...