For the Arts

Day Seven: Gratitude for the Arts

I suppose it is not terribly surprising that an artist, writer, and career art teacher would be grateful for something that has been such a vibrant force throughout her life, but I realized that I’ve heard very little being said, recently, about the value of the arts in our lives.

I think we’re missing something important, by such an omission. There’s a quote from C. S. Lewis that I’ve seen popping up with fair frequency: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art . . . . It has no survival value; rather, it is one of those things that give value to survival.” For me, this quote encapsulates the problem I see.

I believe it is being circulated because people think it affirms the value of art. But to my mind, it understates and diminishes the value, not only of art, but also of friendship and philosophy.

I may decide I need to get into the particulars of this argument someday, but here’s the short version:

Lewis’s unrecognized devaluation of of friendship, philosophy, and art comes from a narrowed definition of these concepts:

  • The preposterous notion that any man could be an island.
  • The idea that philosophy is only conceived by the most abstract (or famous) of introspective thinkers.
  • An elitist assumption that true art is only created by those operating as high-level professionals in creative fields.

Unfortunately, this understanding is far too widely shared, to the detriment of us all. I think this is part of the reason why the arts have been under siege for years, in this country.

Even as we repeatedly discover that a vibrant arts community is as important a business asset to a city or region as excellent public schools, it remains a dual lesson that painfully few in KansasMissouri (where cuts have impacted all aspects of education, and arts often are cut first), or our national government seem to have mastered.
Certainly the importance–and the powerful positive results–of teaching the arts in schools has been amply documented.

But the power of the arts to continue connecting people with their true selves doesn’t stop when they graduate. The arts are a lifelong enricher of souls, giving depth to the lives of all who are willing to embrace them.

Yet the arts continue to be considered as “frills,” unnecessary, or “a side issue,” by all too many people. If art is understood only to be a grace-note in life, it can safely be ignored (and need not be publicly funded). I think Winston Churchill had a better grasp of the issue.

We live in a bitterly divided society, here in the US. All too often, we seem exclusively focused on the ugly, the evil, and the terrifying. Granted, the tenor of politics, the upward spiral of natural disaster occurrences, and the number of mass shootingsterror incidents, and other violence we’ve seen in the daily headlines recently seem designed to drag us down. In such an environment, it’s easier for nationalist and authoritarian movements to gain a footing.

I think the rise in nationalism and authoritarianism in recent decades is largely to blame for the trivialization of the arts (noted above as “part of the reason”) that has come to characterize many funding battles in the public sector.

Authoritarians have a natural distrust of free-thinkers (who are everywhere in the arts), of empirical research, which is less amenable to ideology than other approaches (hence the all-too-common contemporary negative views of science), and of critical thinking in general (because it too readily pokes holes in authoritarian dogma).

The arts lift us beyond our immediate struggles. They can show us other points of view, new ways of thinking and seeing. They give us a rich context for meaning-making and help us build more complete understandings.

The arts, in their best expressions, build bridges of understanding rather than walls of division. They heal us and grant us a wider vision, so we can see–and therefore seek–a better way forward. That’s the most important reason of all, why I give thanks for the arts.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. So is the design for the Eve L. Ewing quote, for which I gratefully acknowledge the BBCWikipedia, and Reuters, via the BBC, which provided the vintage photos. If for some reason you’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. Many thanks to AZ Quotes for the C.S. Lewis quote image; to The Artful Parent, for the Ananda Coomaraswamy quote image; to The Keep Forever Box, for the Sydney Gurewitz Clemens quote; to Jen Bissou’s Pinterest page for the Churchill quote; and to Brainy Quote, for both the Picasso and Degas quote images. I am deeply appreciative to all.

Respect

How do you celebrate Veterans Day? How should we? I think that varies with the individual or family, whether one is or is not a veteran, and sometimes which war hits closest to home for us.

A Veterans Day parade in Milwaukee, WI, complete with banners, flags and uniforms.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with a good parade, honor ceremony, or display of the flag. In many places you can buy a remembrance poppy, evoking memories of World War I, and a tradition in English-speaking countries since the 1920s.

I sometimes feel that the trappings of patriotism–the outward signs, such as a flag pin on a lapel or a patriotic meme on a Facebook wall–get more focus than actual, substantive ways to support veterans and their families.

Last year I posted some thoughts on how to thank veterans that might be worth another look, if you’re so inclined. But it seems to me that we as a nation need to think long and hard about how we treat our active-duty military personnel and our veterans. It’s easy to wave a flag and say “Thank you,” and I’m sure many feel good to be publicly appreciated–but is that the supportiveness they truly need?

If we, as citizens and taxpayers think veterans should be better-served than they currently are, we first should educate ourselves about where the needs truly lie–then get active on a local, state, and national level. To me, that’s the best form of patriotism: the hands-on, trying-to-make-it-better kind. P.S. Did you vote for better government last Tuesday?

If we’re paying enlisted personnel a living wage, why do so many of them end up as prey to the predatory payday lenders whose businesses cluster near military bases?

Back in 2011, I wrote about dilapidated schools on military basesMany were still struggling to improve their facilities as recently as 2015, though academic scores were rising.

If we’re so grateful as a nation to our veterans, why don’t more employers make a point of hiring them

Why are there so many homeless veterans? Also, what can ordinary citizens do to help them? Why are social and mental-health services spread so thin that veterans too often fall through the gaps?

Why do so many veterans commit suicide? How can we stem this trend?

Looks elegant–but are we making it REAL? That’s an open question, I fear.

It seems clear to me that we still have many serious “system upgrades” to put in place, before any “thank you for your service” we say won’t be at risk of seeming kind of hollow, to all too many of our returned warriors.

No matter how sincerely we mean it.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Honor Our Military (based in Milwaukee, WI) for the photo from their 2014 Veterans Day Parade; to the Remembrance Day Pinterest page and Pin for the poppy-themed thought (photo sourced from Hubpages); and to Ultimate Medical Academy via Pinterest for the quote image about real heroes. Thanks are also due to Diply via Pinterest for the Mark Twain quote about patriotismFinally, I am grateful to the National Veterans Foundation for the “dog tags” Thank You image.

Universally understood

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

I’ve heard it said that mathematics is a universal language–but only if you’ve been taught how to decode it. With the arts–especially music, dance, and visual art–no translation is required for the human heart and mind to respond. 

We’ve explored the value of the arts in education during this back-to-school season in my home country, the USA.

But I would submit that no matter when your school term starts, where you live, or how, where, or from whom you learn, if your education is untouched by the arts, it embodies only a pale shadow of the fascination, depth and lifelong relevance it could hold.

IMAGE: Many thanks once again to designer Lonnie King, for enriching this important thought from Richard Kamler with an evocative design.

To the very core

The Artdog Quote of the Week  

The educator’s struggle is often a struggle to demonstrate relevance–but nothing is more relevant to life than the parts that are too deep for words.

That’s why participation in the arts at school–be it band, choir, orchestra, art, theater, creative writing, or dance, is linked with greater student resiliency and engagement, better grades, and better attendance.

As with athletic programs that engage students in whole-body activities and help bond them with groups, school arts programs may seem like “frills,” but that is wrong.

They speak to the very core of what it is to be human, and open paths for greater, deeper learning.

IMAGE: Many thanks to designer Lonnie King for this perceptive quote, rendered as a memorable image.

Nature can teach kids about the world and themselves

The Artdog Images of Interest

Last May, I blogged in some detail about ways that kids can learn to think better and be creative by getting out into nature. That series was focused on keeping kids learning and teaching them to value nature during a summer away from school.

But just because they’re back in school now, that’s no reason for them to stop learning from nature. I’d like to hope that they benefit from classes that teach science on beaches and riversides. But if their schools can’t afford field trips, I hope they get an opportunity somewhere.

I’d like to hope they get to grow things in school-run gardens, to learn about plant life cycles and where food comes from. But if they don’t get that experience in school, I hope they get it from someone.

Maybe they’ll be sent on nature scavenger hunts. Those always make great homework projects. But if the schools are forced to teach to a different test, maybe their moms, dads, older cousins, Scout leaders or someone will take them out to find the wonder in nature, anyway.

Perhaps they’ll have a class project to observe a variety of clouds and learn to tell them apart. But if they don’t, I hope some caring adult will take the time to show them.

Perhaps their school will have a birding club, or they’ll take a trip to a zoo, aquarium, or nature preserve. Wouldn’t it be great if they could learn to observe animals with quiet respect? But if the school’s too busy drilling on grammar and math facts, perhaps an uncle, aunt, grandparent, or other trustworthy adult can help them learn the joys of such excursions.

Family is the first resource when schools are stretched too thin, but if your family can’t take on a full-fledged nature and science curriculum, remember there’s help available in faith communities and community groups. 

Importantly, there also are active youth organizations, such as Camp FireGirl Scouts, and Boy Scouts of AmericaYes, I know both Girl and Boy Scouts have been embroiled in controversy recently. But don’t let that make you lose sight of the fact that they’ve enriched the lives of several generations, and I’m here to tell you that both organizations still contain plenty of committed adults who only desire to help young people grow into knowledgeable adults. (Full disclosure: I was a Girl Scout myself, a Camp Fire summer camp counselor, my daughter was a Girl Scout who deeply loved her summer camping experiences, my son is an Eagle Scout, and I served as a Boy Scout Merit Badge counselor, so I’m not exactly unbiased about these organizations–though I’m also not blind to their flaws).

Whatever you do with your kids and wherever you do it, remember that an enduring connection with nature is a lifelong gift for your children–and a vital survival understanding for all of us.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the photo of young kids with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent observing life along a riverbank. I also want to thank the Green Corn Project Blog, for the photo of the enthusiastic class of second-grade gardeners; to Connecting Youth with Nature for the photo of the kids with magnifying glasses and Small Talk SLP via Pinterest, for the Nature Scavenger Hunt page; to InnerChildFun for the photo of the little boy with the “weather window,” and to E is for Explore! for a different variation on the “Weather Window Cloud Identifier” idea; to EDventures with Kids for the Animal Observation sheet, and to Cornell Labs’ Bird Sleuth K-12, for the photo of the budding birders with binoculars. Finally, I’d like to thank C&G News, and Harper Woods, MI Girl Scout Leader Anna Jochum for the photo of 2nd- and 3rd-Grade Brownie Scouts on a winter survival exercise, and to the Utah National Parks Council of the Boy Scouts of America for the photo of the Scout leader teaching a group of boys a little about leather tooling. I deeply appreciate all for sharing!

Valuing Creativity

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

Finding a way to value creativity in education, in the workplace, and in life, tends to ignite joy wherever it is found. Keep searching for new ways!

IMAGE:  Many thanks to Looney Math Consulting for sharing this image. It’s one of several in their excellent article, “Honoring Creativity in the Classroom.” 

Dogs teaching kids how to read

The Artdog Images of Interest

My Images of Interest this month spotlight creative and unconventional approaches to teaching that have been gaining traction in schools, libraries, and other places devoted to teaching–including our own homes, if we share them with children.

Literacy dogs:

By now, the science is pretty well settled: reading to a calm, accepting dog (or other animal) really does help children learn to read better. Here’s a video that covers most of the important things about kids reading to dogs.

My first video is about therapy dogs of R.E.A.D., Reading Education Assistance Dogs, from Intermountian Therapy Animals, an organization started in Salt Lake City, UT in 1999. It’s a group I’ve blogged about before.

But now for a little something different: how about a dog who inspires children to read–by reading, himself?

Meet Fernie, whose owner Nik Gardner (headmaster of the school where Fernie works) chose him for his temperament, and taught him not only to be a literacy-support therapy dog, but to respond without verbal cues to commands that are printed on flash cards. He’d learned to read four different commands (“Sit,” “Down,” “Roll Over,” and “Spin”) when they were featured in The Telegraph in February 2016, but Gardner vowed then to teach him more.

Regular readers of this blog will remember I’ve featured literacy dogs before. Just sayin’–they do their work well. You’ll probably see them featured here again!

IMAGES AND VIDEOS: Many thanks to VOA for the video and photo of the R.E.A.D. program in the New York City Public Schools. Thanks also to The Telegraph, and to SWNS TV, photographer David Hedges and YouTube for the information, video, and photo of Nik Gardner with Fernie.