Monday, January 31, 2011

Killing Creativity

I tremble when I hear on the news that many of our politicians want to radically reduce, even eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, essentially eliminating art from the public mall. I know America is facing fiscal crisis. I know that hard choices must be made. Yet I tremble at how easily some contemplate eliminating the miniscule funding ($167 million in total, which is negligible rounding error in the $3.83 trillion US national budget) that helps pay for museums and theaters, arts programs and community libraries, poetry and painting and art in schools. I recognize that the ‘far right’ (sometimes self referenced as the ‘real’ Americans) resents that a few dollars find their ways into the pockets of artists whose work they consider obscene, pornographic, or atheist. But actually most NEA and NEH dollars are for programs whose worth goes far beyond the act of creation (and we can argue the value of providing a few dollars to help talented artists pay rent) to fund programs that bring in audiences, tourists, rippling across a community and creating jobs, political leanings nonwithstanding. 

Beyond this fiscal shortsightedness, I tremble because when we so marginalize and hold in disregard the artist and the act of creativity, we are allowing ourselves, all of America including the ‘real’ Americans, to fall farther into the pit of alienation and despair.

What makes a human, what separates the human from the animal, is imagination. The ability to imagine, to envision, what it is to be someone else is at the center of everything when we talk about being human.

Without imagination, there is no empathy. What is empathy anyway? It is the capability to share another’s emotions and feelings. In other words, it is the ability to form a mental image, sensation or concept without actually living that person’s life. In other words, empathy is imagination.

Which is why we need art. We need art because art is the human endeavor that most stretches and requires the development of imagination. We need to create art. We need to receive and respond to art. Without art, without paintings, sculpture, without books and poetry, we are less human. Without art, we have less empathy, less empathy for each other, and for the world in which we inhabit. Without art, we might as well get down on all fours with the sheep and the wolves hunting them.

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