Thursday, February 12, 2009

Art=innovation (even for non-artists)

I stumbled on this article while reading Amy Stein's blog. If you don't already, definitely follow her blog. I'll let you read the excerpt (grabbed from Amy Stein again). This isn't news to us artists, but it may be revelatory to some:

"The fact is that the arts foster innovation. We've just published a study that shows that almost all Nobel Laureates in the sciences actively engage in arts as adults. They are twenty-five times as likely as the average scientist to sing, dance, or act; seventeen times as likely to be a visual artist; twelve times more likely to write poetry and literature; eight time more likely to do woodworking or some other craft; four times as likely to be a musician; and twice as likely to be a photographer. Many connect their art to their scientific ability with some riff on Nobel prizewinning physicist Max Planck words: "The creative scientist needs an artistic imagination."

Bottom line: Successful scientists and inventors are artistic people. Hobble the arts and you hobble innovation. It's a lesson our legislators need to learn. So feel free to cut and paste this column into a letter to your senators and congressman, as well as your school representatives, or simply send them a link to this column. One way or another, if we as a society wish to cultivate creativity, the arts MUST be part of the equation!"

A little devil's advocate of my own to add: the United States is among the worst of the industrialized countries when it comes to arts funding. So low, it ought to be quite embarrassing to our leaders. On the flip side, though, it seems like the best work gets made in times of economic turmoil, when artists stand little chance of making any money from their work. Music is a good example of this: in the 50s and early 60s, even established "star" musicians made very little money. Think of the movie "Walk The Line" when Johnny Cash, Elvis, et al were on tour in their cars, taking turns driving. When music wasn't a way to get rich, we got artists who routinely changed the landscape of their art form completely. Then, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc., came along and became millionaires. Since then, the advances or changes in music have been minimal. And, since it seems like a decent get-rich-quick scheme, the radio is flooded with a bunch of boring clones of whatever some executive thinks is the "hip" sound at the moment.

When the economy is good, everyone, artists included, get comfortable. When art sells, many artists will produce what they think will sell. Not because they are morally weak; income is nice, and it's hard to turn down. But we are in an exciting, scary, fascinating, scary time right now. Artists are at the back of the "expectation of livable income" line. Which means some will give up. The rest of us, who HAVE to make art in order to breathe, will create art that really matters to us. With no reason to think there is any money to be made, artists will take bigger risks, therefore producing better art. Unless my powers of prediction are failing me, the visual art, music, and literature that will be born in the next couple years will be the best we've seen in a generation. And just maybe, a handful of us will forever change the way music, literature, visual art, theater is experienced.

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