What I owe to the arts

Yesterday I went for lunch with a group of colleagues. We were saying goodbye to one of our number who was retiring. We sat at a table overlooking the street in which the restaurant was situated and opposite was an old church that had been re-opened as a performing arts college.

A group of students carrying flagpoles came out at one stage and seemed to be making their way to another part of town. “They are probably rehearsing for the street dancing or theatre,” said one of my colleagues, “they perform every week in town.”

At the end of the meal we left the restaurant and two young men were standing by a wall next to the church/college. They were rehearsing lines from a play.. reading their scripts and trying to get the right stress to the words.

Listening to these young men reminded me of the time that I had wanted to spend my life as an actor and a writer of plays. Circumstances had made me change my mind and I had eventually become the teacher and now consultant that was saying goodbye to our colleague who had herself a lifelong interest in literature and was forever telling us about the latest novel that she had read. She had become a children’s literature expert and was a consultant for the B.B.C. and had written books on literacy for them.

This morning, I came across an entry in Facebook from Edutopia. It read as follows:

Almost every one of us can point back to a creative pursuit, in or out of school, that enhanced our skills, knowledge, or understanding. Yet the majority of secondary school students in the United States aren’t required to enroll in arts courses, many elementary schools nationwide lack art classes o…
I thought, as I don’t do enough, about the first sentence above.. that “almost every one of us can point back to a pursuit, in or out of school, that enhanced our skills, knowledge or understanding”.
I have written elsewhere about my favourite book “To Kill A Mockingbird” and how it effected my outlook on life. I have watched a performance many years ago at the National Theatre in London where the actress playing Willy Lomond’s wife in “Death of a Salesman” did her famous speech over his grave towards the end of the play. I often recount, to any who might listen, about the fact that the audience seemed in total silence,as one, with one breath between us, witnessing a great moment of acting.I remember the first time that I saw the opening scene and the dramatic music of “West Side Story” and marveled at the sheer genius of Orson Welles in directing “Citizen Cane” and “The Magnificent Ambersons” whilst still in his twenties. There  are countless times when music has transported me, or made me angry or happy. I appreciate art and sculpture but do not have the same connection with them that I do with music, drama, cinema or literature but know that there are many for whom a painting or sculpture can have the same effect as the other arts do to me.
I will say it here, so that anyone will know, that I love and have been changed as a person, by living in a world (and a country such as Britain) where the arts have always played such an important part in our lives. In many ways I did  get the chance to experience literature, drama and music in my education. Like Rachel Carson with her dystopia of “Silent Spring” I cannot imagine and would find it very hard to live in a world without the arts.
I applaud Edutopia’s stand for the arts in education. I owe the arts so much that the very least I can do is to raise my voice, via this blog and to anyone who will take the time to read it, to plead that we must defend arts education in our schools because they are so important and they must never disappear from our lives.
I will end with a Youtube video of Kristin Chinoweth and Idina Menzel in a PBS documentary about the making of the musical “Wicked”. The section is the rehearsal and song of “For Good”. In this song there are the lines “bacause I knew you I have been changed… for good”.
Although this is about a person, I think it reflects my feelings for the process that allowed me to cry and be moved by this song, to experience the thoughts about the nature of friendship and good versus evil. How can we not have the arts promoted and taught in our schools?
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2 Responses

  1. I too have many such memories, moments where the profound effect of what was seen or heard changed my feelings and emotions. Trouble is they are not tins of beans, they cannot easily be put in a balance sheet and thus only those who do not need to ask the price might have access to the riches.

  2. Malcolm, I am so behind you! In my school district, like many other school districts we are facing budget cuts. It seems the first place they look to go is eliminating Art or cutting back Art in our Elementary Schools. I work in Kindergarten and can see where some students can only express themselves through Art. It is refreshing to read your blog.
    Thanks for sharing your views. “For Good” is a very poignant song!

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