I was going to write about being an artist. Painting, especially, has always seemed to me the truest form of art. Other than the maker of canvas, the sawyer who makes a board, the chemist who formulates pigments and media, the painter is fully responsible for what comes out of the act of painting. There is no middle-man, no agent, no manufacturer to influence or demand changes and designs. The painter sees the world, paints the picture and moves on. What more freedom could one person have, than that? But that isn’t where my thoughts have led me today.
I’ve made my living in what are called creative arts since I was in my teens. Before I was paid for what I did I worked as an un-paid apprentice in a summer stock theater learning by being useful in any of a dozen tasks. By the time I was in high school I was being paid as a radio announcer/disk jockey. Over the years in college and just after, I remained in broadcasting. I had learned basics of filmmaking by building sets and assisting in camera, editing, lighting and other jobs. Professionally I’ve been a still photographer, cinematographer, director, producer and on more than five-hundred films, scriptwriter. That’s where I earned my reputation and my living all my working years. Today, as a "retired" person (my definition: to be tired again), I am still writing, but focused on fiction and essays. Like a painter, I write for myself, but the similarity ends there. Agents. editors, publishers, marketing people can all get in the way. Even publishing formats can get in the game that starts with a fiction writer’s idea.
I’ve been thinking about the arts as a way of life, of making a living, because it seems to me society is failing in that area, and the skills needed are being denied to far too many people. The risk is that there will not be enough people prepared to create works of art and artistry that will describe and memorialize the times in which we live. It isn’t just the rise of simplified and foreshortened writing techniques that worries me. What disturbs me more than that, than technology-driven ways of communicating and recording and sharing ideas, is the reduction of expression (and therefore thinking) to a limited number of characters, to catch-phrases and acronyms, to over-used irony and so much else that represents modern communication. We are at risk of losing more than beauty in our lives just when we most need it. A finely wrought sentence or paragraph not only adds beauty, but also the time for reflection, for exploring and understanding and making better, the world in which we live.
If your state or local school system is allowing the arts to be removed or downgraded, if the funding for exposure to painting and sculpture, to music and drama, is being reduced or deleted by poorly managed, ideologically driven and underfunded school systems that would rather spend money teaching pseudo-science, consider raising your voice locally and beyond, to make sure today’s children are given the opportunities they need to experiment with the creative arts, to learn not just to express themselves, but to see the world around them and then communicate to others what they see and hear and think.
As educational systems narrow their focus, reduce their field of view, blaming it on the lack of funding instead of the silence of those for whom it truly matters, we risk not just education. Civilization is what we threaten most. It doesn’t have to be that way. That is not where the fault and the threat lie.
It is not in our stars, as Shakespeare warned, but in ourselves.