Last week MM and I went to “town.” We needed a few things such as a Farm Use sticker for the truck. (The poor old thing never gets used except to make a pig-food run, so we down-prided to “farm use" instead of the higher-priced license.) And it was the first day of Early Voting for the county, so we were Johnny-on-the-spot with that, too.
Of course, the mission led us to the courthouse. While MM was inside taking care of the license issue, I was outside with my camera. (never without it!) It occurred to me that most of what caught my eye invited me to look up. I marveled at the unique architecture. The colorful, well-kept exterior unquestionably spoke to the civic pride reflected in the structure. I was particularly charmed by the artfulness of the brick work, and the original desire (obvious) to create something beyond mere functionality.
We mostly don’t do that any more. We don’t often—in our rush-rush society—want to pay for art. Art has become—instead of part and parcel of our lives—a luxury we can’t seem to afford. (but we can afford war..) Take note of the education programs that are being reduced to mere functionality—math, science; and reflect on the deplorable demise of art and music we are witnessing as between 100,000 and 300,000 teachers nationwide are being laid off right now because we “can’t afford them.” Class sizes are being doubled. As a former teacher, I cannot fathom what it would be like to “teach” in a classroom of 45-60 “students.” Believe me, that’s crowd control, not education. But that’s what’s coming. And art class? Music? Band? Forget it. We don’t have time or the money for art…Art is a “frill” and we seem to want a no-frills education system.
Yet, look at these photos of this incredibly lovely building that speak of times when art WAS part and parcel of what our society was “about.” Next time you’re in town—wherever you live—look up! Look at the figures that decorate the OLD buildings. Spend time looking up! Compare them with the “new” buildings with their no-frills exteriors. How much joy do they inspire compared to the old?
Those creative gestures of yesteryear--those pieces of artwork (located high overhead, by the way, where most folks never even notice them, decorating an upper story world with aplomb)— honor us with their fine craftsmanship and pride in what today would be flamboyant and wasteful exteriors,
Maybe we should ask ourselves about the “education” it took to produce such buildings, such brickwork, such woodwork. Such artwork. Maybe we should probe the philosophy and motivation that resulted not only in this kind of attention to detail, but this love of and respect for art.
When MM and I were in Rome, viewing the remnants of the ancient world, I couldn’t help reflect on the underlying belief system that recognized art—in and of itself—as a much-needed facet of living. It was restorative for us, still, in 2005, to sit beside the fountains, the ancient buildings, the pillars as others have done for millennia.. I felt in some small way, that I, personally, was being acknowledged as a human being even among the titans that ruled the world then.
Art is FOR the people. Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why and how we have arrived the stage where “profits” and “efficiencies” and “bottom lines” have all conspired to expunge beauty? Maybe we should be re-thinking our process. Why should art belong only to the well-to-do? Our neglect will be expensive. I don’t believe we can accept tunnel vision as our destiny. We are not all scientists, mathematicians…nor are we serfs, with the fruits of our own labors belonging to others…perhaps we need to ask ourselves what we are really working FOR…who benefits from our labors? Do we?
Yes, dear readers: look up. Then look into the future—the future of this nation’s youth, our systems of education, our values for the “liberal” arts…. What do you see?