Art is Fundamental

Toucan Snail by Barry Midgorden

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” ~ Martin Luther

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ~ Edgar Degas

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” ~ Jonathan Swift

Many of you know that I have degrees in theatre, I’ve taught English and theatre for many years. And I’m married to an artist. Which means, art of all kinds is extremely important to me. I think it’s important to all of us, though often we don’t know it.

Last night my husband and I watched an episode of Origins: The Journey of Humankind on NatGeo. The episode was about how, beginning with graphic representations, communication helped make humans the dominant species on the planet. It happened as those graphic communications morphed into story telling with words and dance. From there we developed ever more complex ways of communicating with each other until now we can reach anyone on the globe in an instant.

It’s the art left behind on cave walls, in archeological digs, and in ancient writings that help us understand how we have evolved, and how we have stayed the same. Art is communication. As the narrator of Origins, Jason Silva says, “Studies have shown creating art rewires our brain, increasing the gray and white matter in the cerebellum. This increases overall cognitive function.” Creating art helps us understand the intangible undercurrents of human emotion. And because of art we have the ability to get underneath the artist’s skin and experience life from his or her point of view. Because of this, art is fundamental.

I hate it when school districts need to make budget cuts, it’s always the arts that get cut first. As if communicating on deeper levels, is not important. So, I’m against this current push toward STEM education, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. I know that those things are important, but we wouldn’t have any of those disciplines without first having invented art. Art encourages creative thinking because to participate in art is to think outside the limits of what we already know.

I don’t mean to say that scientists and mathematicians are not creative. They can be but they need to be able to do what Picasso says, “The artist is a receptacle for emotions (ideas) that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” In my limited experience, people who are involved in the STEM disciplines see the world in a particular concrete way and are uncomfortable with ambiguity. Artists love ambiguity because it’s not linear thinking. Ambiguity is where the magic happens, the visions for a better world, and the innovations come from. I believe great scientists use ambiguity too.

I would love it if art were given its due and instead of this push for STEM in education, we included education in the arts as well. We should make our educational model STEAM instead to include all students. Not everyone is suited to think in linear ways. Some of us are out on the edges of human emotion and thought. We see things others may not even have a clue exist. I don’t want us to leave those students behind as if they’re not important. After all, how many novels, movies and TV shows have predicted, or caused future inventions. I don’t think it’s an accident that the novels, 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale are flying off the shelves during these turbulent times. Those and many authors, felt the coming of dark times and wrote about them. Some of them envisioned solutions that have little or nothing to do with mathematical equations, building structures or proving new scientific theories.

It takes all kinds to make this world a better place, and to paraphrase Winston Churchill, if we don’t appreciate art, then what’s the use of all the struggle? It’s the beauty of the flowers, the sunrise, or sunset, the fluidity of the moving human body, the smile on the face of another, the colors of the painting, or the words or music that touch our heart and make life worth living. Jason Silva also said on Origins, “No human society has ever been found without music. It lies at the core of our culture.” So, it is art that touches our souls and help us appreciate each other. That’s where the next innovation needs to take place, in our hearts. We can have all the fabulous gadgets in the universe, but what good are they if we are fighting with each other and destroying our planet?

I didn’t mean to get so philosophical. It’s just that as I develop as a writer, I’m able to express that I’ve felt for a long time that we humans sometimes get our priorities mixed up. We think that art is a frivolous thing, but without art, we never would have evolved to where we are now. I know from experience that every time I see a movie, or a play, read a book, listen to music or see a painting, my point of view about the world is altered. I can’t say that about seeing a mathematical theorem. That might happen when I see great architecture, but then again, an artist had to create the design for the building. It seems to me without art, STEM might never exist.

Thanks for reading. I hope you leave a comment or share with friends and family.

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Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017