The Aesthetic Elevator has a post referencing this Wall Street Journal article. It’s a condensed version of a commencement speech by Dana Gioia titled The Impoverishment of American Culture: And the need for better art education. Gioia is Chairman of the NEA and an internationally known poet.
Gioia makes the case that American culture used to place more emphasis on a broad range of the arts, both in mass media and in education. Now, he contends, the emphasis is on pop culture with a strong alignment towards entertainment and money.
The quotes I like:
The loss of recognition for artists, thinkers and scientists has impoverished our culture in innumerable ways, but let me mention one. When virtually all of a culture’s celebrated figures are in sports or entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young. There are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child’s imagination, and we’ve relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.
But we must remember that the marketplace does only one thing–it puts a price on everything. The role of culture, however, must go beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us.
Most American artists, intellectuals and academics have lost their ability to converse with the rest of society. We have become wonderfully expert in talking to one another, but we have become almost invisible and inaudible in the general culture.
I love the second quote above. I once heard a talk by Dr. Elaine Storkey that sounded very similar. This is from the chairperson of the NEA! As a Christian, I thoroughly agree, we need to resist our culture’s determination to put a price on everything and put everything into a nice little box where we can understand it and control it. Consumerism and Materialism are gods we like to pretend don’t exist. It becomes all the more difficult when so much of American Christianity has aligned itself so directly with Capitalism and the so-called Free Market. The problem isn’t with the systems, but rather, how much we identify with the systems. Sometimes we end up shaping our theology around our culture, rather than the other way around.
Gioia also says we need to do more to develop student imagination and creativity within our educational system. Absolutely.