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February 10, 1998

Art, Education & Culture:

A Great Hypocrisy

by Fred Marchman, MFA, BFA

There is a great hypocrisy regarding the persistent whining about the need to do more arts education in the public school. As an artist, I certainly encourage education in the arts and humanities because they still function as both a projection and as a reflection of the zeitgeist of cultural and technological and societal developments and their evolutionary growth.

As always, there is a "tarbaby" called money and economics. This tarbaby gums up the works at both ends of the pipe, as it were: the education end (funding for school arts programs) and the "outcome" or results end, i.e., the vocational opportunities in the world for aspiring artists -- or even for more accomplished artists. Exposure to the arts is essential to cultural education and so is financial support. Parents want children to learn the piano or ballet or have them take art classes while they are minors, but if a maturing youth wants to pursue a career as a fine artist -- heaven forbid! They'd rather send you to be cannon fodder first. This is the Great Hypocrisy of which I speak. Peace is also Culture. And, it takes a certain measure of Peace for the creative process to unfold and to flourish.

Is it a way of perpetuating a cruel hoax to education and encourage and inculcate students in the arts? Then, when they enter the work world to discover that to survive and prosper as an artist involves the financial enthusiasm of material support presently enjoyed by the ubiquitous sports cult of our state and of the U.S.A. -- the football religious cult, the basketball religious cult, the baseball religious cult and the new hockey cult, and golf cult and all of the other sports cults that hypno-television would have replaced our present spiritual or religious belief system.

Art is perceived as a luxury, whereas it is in reality, a necessity. People need and, I feel, seek a validity through cultural identity -- hence our obsessions with history and genealogy -- the search for roots is a deep, deep search which ultimately leads us into literally Cosmic Realms. But, in present day U.S. culture, ethical values have been subordinated to materialistic values, one's "net worth" as though such could truly be stated in terms of the highly elastic nature of the ephemeral dollar-worth. This phony dollar-worth assessment that t.v./entertainment and some print media would have us believe that unless an artists' annual income can rival that of one of the sports cult heroes (or anti-heroes' champions of uncouthness, violence and avarice) then, well they aren't really to be taken seriously is the subliminal message.

When a person attains dollar-stardom in the arts, then, no matter what the nature or "product" of their efforts look like, they are almost always granted the "they-must-be-doing- something-right" materialists' seal of approval. In fact, the true value or quality or message of the artists' effort may be entirely overlooked in lieu of the moneyistic evaluation of their contribution or attempted accretion to culture.

Unfortunately, the magnet of money we are told is a "necessary evil" -- and so it has become literally so for many deluded folks who went down this or that one-way path into the baroque, broke hells engendered by the maze of materialism with its baffling risks, gambles, indebtedness. The pied pipers of the advertising world alternately blasting at us bombasticly or seducing us with every conceivable device to want stuff we never even knew we wanted till they dangled their golden carrots before the bunny and sheep they all presume we are. They appeal to our senses and even to our "reason" -- yet not really does advertising nor propaganda appeal to our intellect.

The arts deserve to be an equal respect with engineering, science, math, sports and all business fields. The perpetuation of negative myths such as the anguish and suicide of Van Gogh for example, do little to help either living or dead artists. Serious art students, often sensitive souls may be disaster-programmed by such tales of tragedy and if they consciously or subconsciously role model from the tragic-romantic they can well end up in similar ruin. This can and does occur when either artists or the public buy into the mass mind myths perpetuated by legendary romantic artists (and artists "maudit") such as Modigliana, Utrillo, Soutine, Gaughin and of course, Van Gogh.

Basically, the fine arts have a constructive contribution to make to any cultural milieu from which they arise, generally speaking, and living artists deserve to make a decent living. Meaning, enough dollars to support family and personal obligations, just as other kinds of human endeavor may provide. This implies a responsible patronage of whatever form, be it personal, corporate, governmental, religious or other methods of art patronage. We need to accept the function of the arts as the constructive pillars of the house of culture. Museums can only do part of this work. When people collect, purchase or stimulate their group to support art in direct material (financial) terms the way they now support the sports phenomena, then we shall experience culture in our world with dynamic new excitement.

What I'm saying is that people need to incorporate the arts into their belief system the way they now believe in money, sports, religion, sex, love, apple pie, family and America.

Naturally the public is put off when the National Endowment for the Arts spends its tax dollars on art that is patently obscene or sacrilegious, and rightly so. I too was repulsed by Mapplethorpe's crucifix in a glass of urine. Meanwhile, across America there are worthwhile, earnest artists at work who would be content with even a small percentage of what the big names get for being obnoxious attention-getters and egomaniacs.

Tragically, I know of various cases where artists have actually quit painting because the paintings were piling up and presenting storage problems -- and these are artists who in my estimation have a genuine talent. Many men and women have had to set aside their art careers in order to finance the raising of a family. Sometimes they are able to resume later in life the youthful "folly" of pursuing an art career. Often, they become so over obligated to the thrall of material needs and wants that those earlier dreams are never dusted off and realized and remain valid only in their fantasies or remain desires to be fulfilled perhaps in some future lifetime.

I will never forget, during a visit to New York City in the early sixties having dinner out in Chinatown with a group of older artists who were actively "making the scene," seeking success in the Big Apple as painters -- which was really quite possible in those days. I did not understand when one of these men indicated that he had given up painting. I was indeed shocked, appalled, for such would have been unthinkable for me at that time, in my early 20's. I asked him "Why?" I was admonished by the others present not to press him to explain his choice, which I simply saw as defeat. I didn't inquire further, so I never found out. They thought I was being tactless, I suppose, but because I was naive, I was curious. Because I was so zealously into abstract expressionism -- the dominating trend at that time, it seemed to me that this school of painting would go for all time, and that it was just a matter of time until my time would arrive to succeed in that field too, just like Pollack, Kline and deKooning and Rothko and the others of that movement whose works were jolting the readers of Time and Life magazines and those who attended the museums and galleries of New York and the other big cities.

I had yet to learn many new lessons from the School of Hard Knocks to come. But somehow I kept painting in spite of the many upsets, reversals, ups and downs and depressing rejections I experienced. I have continued to follow my star, as they say. Destiny cannot be measured in dollars, nor can dharma or karma.

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