Art and Democracy

Imagine, dream, listen and soar
Infinite ways to create and explore
Find your voice, raise it on high
Speak your own truth from a place deep inside
Find your way home, find your way home, find your way home*

Art is important. Why? Because art and democracy go hand in hand. Art is the communication of one’s personal experience in a public forum. In a free and democratic society, individuals are encouraged to question, explore and convey their ideas and opinions. Art is one of the most authentic forms of expression of the human spirit, and in a free society, art and individual expressions flourish.

art-car
Ever since our ancestors emerged...

Imagine, dream, listen and soar
Infinite ways to create and explore
Find your voice, raise it on high
Speak your own truth from a place deep inside
Find your way home, find your way home, find your way home*

Art is important. Why? Because art and democracy go hand in hand. Art is the communication of one’s personal experience in a public forum. In a free and democratic society, individuals are encouraged to question, explore and convey their ideas and opinions. Art is one of the most authentic forms of expression of the human spirit, and in a free society, art and individual expressions flourish.

art-car
Ever since our ancestors emerged from the primordial ooze, humans have been leaving behind artistic creations in caves and archeological sites that date back at least 32,000 years. Whenever archeologists discover a new site to investigate, there is always the question asked: “Yes these are bones and they may be the remains of humans, but are they human?” Artifacts like cave art and flute fragments seem to answer that question.  Archeologists in Eastern Europe discovered a piece of bear thighbone at a Neanderthal cave that appears to have been a flute. The age of the flute-like bone has been estimated to be 43,000 to 82,000 years. Don Jordan’s webpage at <realindy.com> states, “The flute is another in a string of Neanderthal discoveries in recent years that underline the humanness of these people.” The “humanness” of the people is defined by the art they left behind.  

Around 2,500 years ago, ancient Greeks in Athens experimented with a radical idea that still influences us today- that experiment was democracy. The word democracy is derived from the Greek words “demos” (people) and “kratos” (power). For the first time in human history, the people had the power to speak their minds and the right to be heard by their government. The Greeks understood that a society functioned best if its citizens were equal and free. They believed that there is a divine spark in each mortal and that life was a continuous search for truth and wisdom. It is not a coincidence that as democracy flourished during those ancient times, an explosion of creativity occurred in art, mathematics, science, architecture, sculpture, music, literature and drama. The masterpieces they created thousands of years ago still fill us with awe today.

Freedom and democracy are inseparable. Democracy permits variety and allows criticism. When tyrants attempt to overtake a society, one of the first things they do is attack the press and suppress the artists.  Freedom of expression and free speech are the cornerstones of a democracy. Free speech leads to tolerance; censorship leads to intolerance. Art is a true reflection of the democratic process because it is a representation of an individual’s perception.

We are ambivalent about art in our present day culture. In the 1960s and 1970s, the arts were valued by the American public and the government responded by increased funding of art institutions and nonprofit organizations. Since that time, there has been a gradual shift away from support for the arts. We have gone from endorsing the arts with enthusiasm, to questioning whether it is even necessary to allot time for art education in the schools. There is so much pressure on schools to raise children’s standardized test scores that other educational necessities are being left by the wayside. Americans for the Arts has established that art education increases test scores and lowers dropout rates, helps to close the achievement gap, improves academic skills essential for reading and language development, and advances students’ motivation to learn. Dr. Shirley Heath, a researcher with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, found that children with art in their schools at least nine hours per week are: four times more likely to have been recognized for academic achievement; three times as often elected to class office; four times more likely to win an award for school attendance; and four times more likely to win an award for an essay or poem.

The Wallace Foundation commissioned a research project/report through the RAND Corporation to improve understanding and encourage debate about how the arts affect our culture. In this 2004 report titled, Gifts of the Muse, Reframing the Debate About the Benefits of the Arts, it affirms that “democracies need citizens who can think for themselves rather than deferring to authority, and they need citizens with an ability to see themselves not simply as citizens of some local region or group but also, and above all, as human beings bound to all other human beings by the ties of recognition and concern.”

Art is fearless; it teaches us to take risks. Art stimulates; it makes us ask questions. Art trains us to notice the world around us. It lets us perceive, and empathize with, another person’s view of the world. In order to think critically, a person must learn how to analyze, interpret and express one’s ideas. Art education helps us to acquire the essential skills citizens need in order to be involved in a democratic society. We need to keep art in our own lives as adults, as well as to pass the legacy on to our children. Supporting the arts in our schools will help students to become active members in our culture.

We’re all lovers and dreamers and seekers of truth
The art of discovery begins in our youth
Keep your flame burning, kindle with care
For your life is your masterpiece*

Go out and express yourself. Create your masterpiece. Take those piano lessons you’ve been putting off for years. Sign up for that woodworking class. Write letters to the editor of your local paper. Explore the art of stained glass. Buy the Klutz book of watercolor techniques and get lost in the colors. Rent a dulcimer and go to a festival in North Carolina. Join the church choir. Become involved in the community. Take tap lessons. Start that novel you’ve been evading. Take risks and show your creations to each other. Go to the next town meeting and make your voice heard.

Find your art. Find your voice. Find your way home.

*Your Masterpiece/Find Your Way Home
©Thomasina Levy, 2005

Thomasina Levy was the Connecticut State Troubadour for 2005 and 2006. This honorary, two-year position allowed her to be Connecticut's Ambassador of Music and Song. With a Master of Science degree in Education, Thomasina uses music and the arts to help students of all ages discover their own creative abilities. She has recorded four solo albums and her music has been aired in over twenty countries across the globe.