A Ben Cohen Ink Comic


By Ben Cohen a “legendary master of the left field.” -BRP!

“Unintentionally misunderstood since 1975.” –Anonymous

“A big f@#k you, to the audience.” -B. Pendarvis

Ben Cohen's Facebook Found Objects Third Party News

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why Art!?!

For weeks, actually years I have been trying to gather my thoughts completely on this subject. To create the ultimate convincing argument…but I don’t think such an argument exists…otherwise there would be no argument. So bellow is my position as best I can state it today with the recollection have currently. I am sure as responses come in it will trigger other ideas I have come across.

Note: most of this argument is in defense of 2D and Digital Visual Art, because this is my area of expertise. But much of these arguments are transferable to Music, Theater and 3D Art. And each of these arts has their own unique defendable positions. I would also off the bat like to clarify I am not asking for funding from math to go to the arts…I am just asking for the arts to not be dismissed, seen as a luxury, used as a prop in political differences. They are just as important, as I will outline. In fact all disciplines of education rely on art and all arts rely on other disciplines.

The typical defense of Arts or Arts Education is delivered in terms that often makes my stomach tern and leaves me without tangible evidence of the necessity. This is often because it involves defending an opaque and shifting product, a product that is not concrete by nature. This is also why it is difficult to defend in these terms the relevance of art education. We are left with defenses centered around “culture,” “personal expression,” and “beauty.” These are subjective positions; what is one persons culture may not have relevance to an others, expression is selfish and can be a waste of time, and beauty can be presented as a fascist utopian concrete definition that really has turned me off at times. I will not leave these positions high and dry in my argument, but it is not the center of it, because it is and has been so easily dismissed on it own. This is why the number one defense against the Recovery Act of 2009 has started with wasted funding for the NEA.

Before we get to the economy, let’s talk about something even more fundamentally patriotic; democracy.

In a democracy it is essential that we understand clearly what is being communicated to us. This is why language studies, English and foreign, reading and verbal are of such a high priority in our education system. But what is the most efficient way to receive information in a democracy…visual communication. If we understand what is being shown we make educated and intelligent judgments. But this only happens if we are taught how to decipher using our visual lexicon. Otherwise we still translate it, but from a position that is easily manipulated and/or misinterpreted. Every student regardless of destination educationally or carrier wise needs to be fluent visually.

Communication in a democracy is a two way street and most people would like to be as effective in their message. As already stated some of the most effective ways to protest or support something is to communicate it through a visual, this takes training and skill to be most effective. The skills can be taught, but even if natural ability is not prevalent and it thus takes more time to teach, there are ways of teaching to the strength of the individual. So they can work within the boundaries of their abilities most effectively. This requires Art education. Not all great artist are great at communicating all the ways you can visually. But they do learn fundamentals that are universal and they use their strengths effectively to communicate what they intend.

At no other time in our nation’s history has the economy been more important and more unpredictable. So when money is set aside for the arts traditionalist begin to think…ïs that an effective way of using tax dollars?” My answer is YES, it is just as effective as any other investment being presented, both short term and long term. I heard just the other day that for every dollar invested in the arts it produces $100.oo in tax revenue and $1,300.00 in earned income for American workers.
Reading another story recently it struck me that all the businesses closing their doors are places that have cut corners, been inefficient and ignorant in terms of product design, branding, advertising graphics ect…their aesthetics and design quality are dated or poor…all art related aspects of their business; Mervyn’s, Linens and Things, Chrysler, Circet City, Kmart ect… Also the surest way to not sell a house is to stage it wrong, requiring interior design skills and architectural skills…that relates directly to the center of the credit crisis, mortgage sales. It also relates directly to art.

I have lived in four communities in four of the six regions of mainland US, the Mountains, The Pacific Coast, The South and the North East…my parents are from the other two. Everywhere I have lived has had local economies that rely on the arts. Artists produce products that are sold in retail stores, and produce or showcase arts entertainment and significantly contribute to bringing local customers and tourists to shop. The arts are the nuts and bolts of most local economies, if not in product then in presentation, promotion and store layout. Every sign, every product and every design has artistic principles. The better the design the better the chance of a sale and taxes to be paid into the community and consumers to be shared and more dollars to appear in local pockets which leads to more spending. Now artist are typically low wage workers, who often have to hold town another job to keep in business. But their art sales produce taxes for local and national government coffers.

Many opponents to supporting the arts point to money funneled to Hollywood or the NY City theater district. Both industries bring billions into the local community and pay out hundreds of millions in tax revenue that benefits all American’s. What is even more important is these industries have sought production opportunities and film location opportunities in every region of the US. In every community I have lived in there have been film productions that have benefited the local economy; in fact local community’s campaign to have Hollywood invest in them. This is not just funding that goes to LA.
One of the fundamental strengths we have had in the last 100 years has been our ability to export our culture; through that our products are desired throughout the world. This is significantly effected by the arts, not just through the culture we transmit through foreign consumption of Hollywood productions, but through all visual communication we expose them too. In today’s economy we are obviously a global market. When language becomes more of an issue visual communication becomes more essential in sales. If our culture looses the edge we had in the 50’s on graphic design to European and Japanese graphic designer we can continue to see declines in American international sales. We do not want our products to be lost in translation, a clear and cultural sensitive visual communication can be essential to produce international sales. If we have well trained artists then we can export our culture in the most effective and honorable way to support and produce democracy and our economy.
The principles of design and the rules of design lead to good design, which leads to good products and product promotion. Well trained and talented designers are just as concerned with function as they are form…this relates directly to the closing national and international corporations I mentioned earlier. If your product is poorly designed you can find the root of this occurrence in poor art education or deficient art education.

As with the point about communicating in a democracy and understanding a visual lexicon we need these same skills in being skilled consumers and skilled competitors economically in an international market. Skills every American needs.

Listening to local radio a few weeks ago it was pointed out that there is this perception of artist as people who are bohemians or elitist (some are…don’t get me started), that sit around and wait for inspiration doing every thing from walking in the woods to play video games (nothing wrong with these things…again don’t get me started), or the are taking psycadelics (not a very defensible position)…but the fact is most artist are salt of the earth workaholics. As mentioned most are working poor. In art school you quickly realize you work 3-4 times as hard on in your art classes as you do in your other course work, not because of the joy, but because of the demand the work entails. This is confirmed if you go on to study in other fields as I have. Once you have worked tirelessly at researching, planning, developing and producing your art you are subjected to intense critiques to help improve your art (often in the midst of the process). This can be a brutally honest experience that builds character and intelligence (it is based on steadfast rules, circumstantial rules, personal opinion and abstract sentiments). Once you start working in the “real world” the work ethic you have developed leads you into a pattern of intense economy of time management and productivity. Time is money and long hours are inevitable.

All of the above have directly or indirectly inferred the necessity for quality art education for all to support consumers, citizens and industry. There are some additional, if not direct, reasons to support arts education as a high priority. When you are learning the arts you are working on abstracted problem solving skills that go hand and hand with developing innovation. This is the purest way to develop Piaget’s Cognitive Development stages. When working with a balanced problem that includes abstraction and concretive principles you are working cognitively in a way that leads to solutions that are innovative; outside the box. These skills are the most basic of what America’s economic success has always been about. This is the American way, as a Californian I can attest this is the reason we are the successful as a state; innovation. New thoughts, new ideas, new products. The most effective way for students to learn to think this way is through arts education. That is why the most successful students in the world often have an artistic focus that compliments their success in Math, Science, Language ect… You can incorporate art education into all other discipline, to help with relevance, multiple inelegances, clarity ect…that lead to higher retention for all students in these other areas. Any artist will also tell you that it is essential to have basic knowledge in all subjects, and be inquisitive, and be able to research to inform your art. Otherwise what you are saying is ignorant. The arts are an integral part of quality education and part of the solution to help improve our education system. To not fund it is precisely how you would undermine the success of our education system.

One of the vague arguments mentioned above does deserve a mention here in the context of art and art education. The cultural and societal element of art has allowed humans to state, we are here, this is who we are, this is what we think…these are important statements that are shared with each other and with future generations. Art history can put things in perspective and help with lessons learned from the past. Without art we would not fully grasp the reality we face today as we reflect on the great depression. On a personal anecdotal note, my wife has always said that she did not understand history at all until she took a sequential art history course. This has as much to do with the sequence as the visual communication that made it relevant to her as a student. Storytelling is fundamental, and visual art is fundamental to storytelling.

As for Personal Expression another vague area mentioned previously, it is not entirely selfish. I do know there is a huge role for improved psychological conditions through the arts. With this opportunity comes improved productivity of our workers and the area we mention as a culture as a right but often do not fund…the pursuit of happiness.

The third vague area I will leave alone, but it should be noted. As a secular Jew I am not too focused on the spiritual side of art, but there certainly is both a personal and cultural relevance of art and art education.

Given the above information it gets my blood boiling these days when I hear a Republican use the NEA as a reason to not support at jobs bill, or a local community vote against a budget that supports arts education. But it is not entirely their fault. This is the mindset they grew up with. We take the arts for granted, we see it as frivolous, be are totally ignorant to the practical tangible benefits it brings us. I was totally in the dark as to why art was important until two years ago, even though it has been the central focus of my life from age four. We live in a society that not only doses a disservice by down playing the importance of art education, but we have become ignorant of what art is communicating and how to communicating with it. This has put our lives in jeopardy in opaque, but no less tragic terms. If we continue to undermine the quality and prevalence of art education in our culture then we face a future of visually ignorant consumers and voters, as well as an economy driven by inferior products and inferior promotion. We simply will take ourselves out of the innovation game. We will become unimportant on the international stage. The alternative of a strong cultural recognition of the important role the arts play in our democracy, economy, culture and personal lives will make true the promises made and defended, freedom, pursuit of happiness, the American Dream.

Thanks for reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment