Just get into the arts — and see what happens

“The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live,”
— Auguste Rodin

Happy New Year. Can we all do a collective non-political, non-diet, totally good for everyone New Year’s resolution? Support the arts and get involved in the arts. I don’t care which one. One of them. All of them. Get arts into your life.

A Johns Hopkins study finds that arts education helps rewire the brain positively. A Missouri Department of Education study finds the greater the arts education a student has, the less likely that student will be facing disciplinary issues.

A University of Maryland study finds integrating the arts into other subjects raises achievement and retention of information.

The Center for Arts Education in New York finds higher graduation rates among graduates with arts exposure.

A Rand Corporation study finds that art is not only a creative outlet for students but that it serves to connect them to community and the world. A Guggenheim study finds that arts education improves literacy.

All of these and more studies provide evidence that raising children and teens with a rich focus on the arts is not only good for them, but for society and community as well. Which makes me pose this question — though I firmly believe that arts should not have to justify its existence anyhow — but when will our local educational institutions figure this out and champion the arts as well?

As everyone begins the new year and the budgeting process for the years to come — let’s think for a moment about the lack of serious art programming and support we have here. And yes, I know your school has band class and yours has that one drama class and that you let an artist come in and do crafts now and then — that’s not what I mean. I mean a paradigm shift. I mean a mind set shift.

We should be offering and pushing more visual, literary, performance and musical arts in the schools and curriculum directors, teachers and administrators need to reframe how they look at the arts in general.

As someone who has worked in one system and someone who has a child in each of the others, I’m just going to say this now: It’s a new year. Get into the arts. All the way in. It will save you and your kids.

Back in October, I was at a political forum when a then candidate was asked about vocational classes at FRC. He quipped that “We have a great art teacher” and that he thought “a fine arts class was great training for a career in graphic arts.” Um sure, when that was a hot major back in 1993. Making fine art have to justify itself as necessary in education because you might be able to get stuck (and I do mean stuck) in a creative services department designing ad copy for a gas station, (a friend of mine had to do this) represents all that is idiotic about our understanding of the role of arts in our lives and education. It’s like telling a five-star restaurant chef to be happy making Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese. (FRC does have a great art teacher, by the way — great primarily because he is an actual artist as well as a teacher). Say it loud, say it proud: Art does not have to be tied to a job.

We tend to think of art making in two categories: Those with innate talent and those without. So we push the few we deem with talent and we encourage everyone else to play sports or do nothing. The nothing leads to depression, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancies and unfulfilled dreams in youth.

This follows into adulthood. Adults say they aren’t talented or that they “can’t do that” more than even kids do. How did we get that way? No arts in one’s life, that’s how.

I am not anti-sport by any means. I learned long ago while teaching in Japan that humans have the capacity to throw balls, read books and create art simultaneously. In Japanese elementary school it is understood that creating art, exercising, and becoming an intellectual are all parts of a well-rounded person. One is not prized above the other like it is here. Funding for schools is not set up to prize one over another, either.

I’m primarily a writer and performer, but every year I take a dance class or two though I suck at dancing and I keep an art journal though I can’t draw to my own or anyone else’s satisfaction. Why do I do the arts I cannot “do?” Because it’s humbling, full of wonder, and calming, believe it or not. It opens up doors to be exposed to new things. It opens the mind. It opens the heart. It connects me.

I see this in the Arts in Corrections program I work with in Susanville. My creative writing and theater inmate students who really delve into themselves to create for the first time are slowly getting their souls back. I don’t feel like we’ll have to fear their release dates. Many students tell me that they never realized that they could draw, sing, paint, write, act — it wasn’t something our culture ever told them could belong to them. One student told me last month, that had he discovered writing earlier in his life he may have had an outlet and not wound up in prison in the first place.

Here in Plumas County we have opportunities for arts, despite our size and despite our currently weak educational systems’ support. We have Plumas Arts tirelessly supporting efforts to bring arts to the county. We have dramaworks and Pachuca Productions bringing theatre to all ages of actors and audiences. We have some music programming left in the schools and musicians around the county who regularly give instruction. We have Quircus. We have dance instruction by Rhythm and Grace, Saraha Michelle Black and others.

Arts survives in Plumas County, but it could be thriving. Call your kids’ school. Make sure there is a literary arts class, theatre arts, fine arts, and music programs at each PUSD, PCS, and FRC site. Encourage yourself and others to try something new. Audition for a show, buy some art supplies, pick up the guitar that’s been sitting in the corner of your bedroom for five years.

Seriously. Get into the arts and note that you won’t need as much therapy, you probably won’t want to kill yourself or others nearly as much, and you might just gain empathy and compassion. You will have an outlet for your frustration. You will have a way to channel your sorrow.

You will find yourself becoming hopeful, open minded and unwilling to live without beauty.

Somehow, we always think the purpose of art is to become an artist — a famous one at that. Nope. That’s not the goal of art.

The goal of art is to become human.