Saving Fine Art Budgets

February 14, 2013
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Essay #2
What does America value above all else? Some argue freedom, others law. Morality and strength are two sometimes opposing possibilities. Other countries have occasionally spat beauty, sex, and dominance. We all believe we value happiness and might admit a guilty and secret love affair with the easy, cheap, and practical. The best answer to this question may be any number of these things, but in the end, on your deathbed, there is one thing you will think about and one thing you will dream for and one thing that unites not just Americans but humanity: family. Everyone – every last person to draw breath from the dawn of time – has had one form or another. And in America, this most passionate devotion manifests itself in the young and innocent. We cherish our children. We wish the best of everything for them, but sometimes don’t have the means to give it to them. A rich and hearty education balanced between critical math, language, and science and essential fine arts is optimal, but budget cuts can prevent this. It is the opinion of many that fine art programs are simply too costly to sustain in high schools today, when America is neck-deep in debt and sinking farther. Cutting arts removes a whole end of the scale, and sends the other side crashing down. Those in support of this argue that we cannot afford them, but the opposite is true. Arts are the foundation of America, of humanity, and of everything we value no matter the investment, the benefits they provide in the long run far outweigh the initial cost, and our government, economy, and society cannot afford to abandon them.
The economy is perhaps what people wish to save the most with budget cuts to fine arts, and their claims of it being expensive are valid for the time being. They believe, much as a parent telling a child not to look into a bag of unwrapped resents, that it is a quick and easy fix. After all, the practical and efficient is one of America’s less coveted values. However, the problem is only avoided temporarily with such a shallow solution; the child will eventually be overcome with curiosity and take just one tiny peek. Now, if the parent had told the child to look if they wished, it was only some dirty laundry, the kid likely would have scoffed and returned to their games, bag out of mind. It seems counterintuitive to tell the toddler to look when you wish the contents to remain secret, but this technique – Reverse Psychology, discovered by Max Horkheimer – has been proven effective time and time again. Likewise, Dr. John Benham outlines how cutting music teachers leads to an eventual increase in costs, not savings – a discovery he has dubbed Reverse Economy (Source B). Therefore, monetarily, fine arts programs are a benefit to individual schools. On a larger scale, one must consider the effects of fine arts on America’s economy as a whole. Tourism and Media are some of the biggest industries in the US today. The media industry contributes to the American economy by promoting million of products every hour to potential consumers. These products are not only witnessed nationally, however, but are viewed internationally by people of all races and cultures. These people see America through our media and wish to be a part of the greatness spread before them, if only for a short time. And what attracts them is not just the American spirit or promise of wonder, but the beauty they can see in sculptures outside of museums or murals as bright splashes of color on the sides of neat buildings, ceramic and painting and tattoo shops offering their unique wares with cheerful optimism. Tourism accounts for a huge percentage of America’s revenue every year already; imagine what it could provide if we were a more artistic country. Today, we offer fine arts in high schools, and then threaten to cut them because of a lack of professional jobs that they provide. But think of the economic benefits we could reap from continuing to employ the thousands already employed by the media industry, and hiring more each day to accommodate to the world’s growing technological vision, while simultaneously offering jobs to work-hungry young artists and musicians to improve America’s image. We have the power to “reinvent… tourism” (Source F), harnessing and costing nothing but the determination and unending innovation of the brilliant leading minds of the new age. For if other countries say we value beauty, let us give it to them, and let us benefit economically from the awe we can inspire.
The fine arts have held this power as long as humans have existed. Before we even knew how to harness the power of fire, we were carving, sculpting and painting anything we could with anything we had. The oldest cave paintings, found recently in Spain, are estimated to have been made nearly forty one thousand years ago. Since then, they have walked beside us through every age of humanity; through the dark ages, the feudal times, the enlightenment, through reform and hardship and trials. If it hadn’t been for Paul Revere’s depiction of the Boston Massacre, perhaps the Revolutionary war never would have happened, and America would not exist today. Hence, the fine arts are an integral part of not only our economy, but our society, and every society on earth. We cannot remove them from American schools any more than we could from the human psyche, as it is an integral part of our very nature. Every major religion believes this: Christianity calls God a potter, and man the works of his hands; the Israelites welcomed David home with dances and songs and musical instruments; Jesus himself was the son of a carpenter. Buddhists consider the arts as a guidance towards enlightenment and have many traditional art forms that enhance practices in temples, monasteries, and the home. Islamic art and music strives to portray the meaning and essence of things, rather than what we perceive them as, and though their religion does not specifically endorse it like Christianity or Buddhism it is an important part of their culture. The fine arts have been sanctioned by whatever higher power may be and the immeasurable passing of time, and have been ingrained into the very core of our beings. There have been times when music could only be played in exclusive chapels or before the highest nobility. There have been times when theater was reserved for the upper classes, and art monopolized by the rich. But no matter how or where, art has always existed, and above all thrived in the hearts and minds of the young.
It is a new age, and America is a new place. Freedom and law are high beliefs, and we are a nation that tries to protect our freedom with laws and still create laws with relative freedom. We attempt the impossible task of creating even ground for every citizen to stand on and look eye-to-eye. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act tries to accomplish this with education, but it is a flawed solution. It focuses on core classes and special needs children, ignoring the universal need of both for creative development and artistic nourishment. Studies have proven the benefits of art classes for student scores in both standardized and innovative tests, and some American companies even require a fine arts minor because of the individual’s unique way of solving problems. Providing this education allows our children to take tests better and raise their confidence, self-esteem, and leaderships skills (Source A), which will enable America to climb back from seventeenth place worldwide in education where we have fallen in the pits of fine art budget cuts. Still, hypocritically, the arts are starved for money or eliminated. Without funding, No Child Left Behind becomes The Child Interested in Fine Arts Left Behind, and only serves to leave artistic children in a dark and unsuccessful place with no way to grow and nurture their talent. This instills a hatred of the arts in the next generation, as seen in Source E, which we cannot allow. Blind hatred in an attempt to “keep up” and pass tests leads to a class who are enslaved by their own perception. They will believe that life is nothing more than a constant rat race to prepare for and pass an examination, and be dubbed ‘successful’. If they cannot pass these standardized tests, in their eyes they simply are not worthy of living. Soon, this perspective will spread. Joseph Stalin called democracy “the cult of the individual,” because it holds so dear the power of creativity and innovation. We must do whatever is possible to ensure a love of imagination in our children, to avoid the deterioration of American government into a communist nation of mindless test-taking automatons. The fine art programs in our schools have staved off this dark future for centuries and should be allowed to do so in centuries to come. Bringing them back is the only way to save our government from collapse, and it must be done soon.
Beyond that, far more significant, it will open their minds to the endless universe of possibility before them. They would have the choice – America’s most loved freedom – of what they want to do when they reach adulthood, and even more crucially, the kind of person they want to be. Yes, America values choice within the bounds of the law; education within a set budget. We acknowledge that we must strive for strength and dominance with outstanding morality; improving test scores honestly. We confess that we love beauty and happiness, but that is a human condition, and if so why not promote it and create it and live off what money it may provide? We even look forward to a world where everything can be made simple; this desire is an empty dream, but we should strive to simplify our busy technology-centered lives where we can. Because we are a democracy – E Pluribus Unum, from many, one – and if everyone is unique and open-minded and thoughtful, than that is the country we will be. And if everyone of these long-cherished ideals can be breathed to life by simply cutting our losses now and providing fine art programs to preserve the livelihood and soul of our children, to make them question and wonder and love, to give them the tools they need to top the scale back and pull the nation from the muddy quicksand of debt once more and innovate solutions to the problems growing ever larger in this world, is it not worth it?

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