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The Arts Will Save Us

By Seana Sperling
Aug 1st 2013

Arts and Media programs are disappearing in public schools across the country according to a May 2012 issue of The Nation, What Teachers Want. At the Community College where I work we lost the College Newspaper and the accompanying Journalism Program in 2009. Next it was Publishing Arts. Currently in 2012, they are cutting the Film Program and there is speculation of closing the Apparel Design Program. Has the college become merely a place to educate corporate automatons or is this a way to curb Freedom of Expression?

Throughout History Artists like Goya, Solzhenitzyn and Woody Guthrie expressed their political beliefs through their art, and as a result helped provoke socio-political change. Freedom of Expression is essential to a civil society and is essential for our happiness.

The Arts have saved me many times. Music, drawing, writing, cooking, creating anything is very uplifting. Even listening to music elevates the soul and there have been times when I have felt great joy because of a certain series of notes. I would not be here today if it were not for art.

There was a time in Fall 2006 when I was in a deep depression because of a horrendous slander campaign against me, which had provoked intense organized bullying by the community. People were actually hinting that I was some sort of sex offender, racist or thief and I was being tracked everywhere I went by the bullies. I wasn't aware that these accusations were being directed at me until I found multiple postings on in December 2007. While these things aren't true, the accusations caused friends to drop me completely and not one person would tell me what was going on. It was a very dark time in my life.

I forced myself out of the shad ows by singing along with my favorite CDs. I felt a little silly at first, because when you live in an apartment building, the neighbors can hear you. One neighbor did make fun of my singing, but you have to ignore the bullies.

I'm not the only one who feels inhibited about singing. Over the years I have noticed that many Seattleites seem reluctant to sing outside of their choirs, bands, churches or without a Karaoke Machine. I rarely even see anyone singing along with the radio in cars anymore. This is a sad statement about Seattle, which is ironically a city famous for its music scene. I suppose people fear appearing uncool. (In the 1990s people were walking around without umbrellas in the rain for this reason.) From what I've seen at Peace rallies and marches most the people chant, but you rarely see them singing. Always chanting gets boring and singing provides a much better vibe.

The Seattle Peace Chorus used to take part in the Peace marches. They were a nice addition and very inclusive, handing out lyric sheets if you wanted to join in. The arts, such as singing have played an important role in the history of U.S. protests. Imagine a scene from the 1960's with hundreds of people singing, "We Shall Overcome." Singing provides a strong and positive vibration. Would the Police send pepper spray into a multitude of voices?

In some cultures the arts are on a parallel with mysticism. Tibetan Throat singing is linked to mysticism. The Whirling Dervishes of the Sufi spin into spiritual trances and the Kecak (Spirit Dance) of Indonesia historically also provoked trances in the participants. In these cases music and dance is sacred.

Tibetan Monk Throat Singing (Tuvan Throat Singing) is a very interesting use of this positive vibration. I've tried it and although I'm not very adept, I can feel the vibration in my chest. The singing originates in the throat, but seems to echo through the trachea into the chest. I think I am making the correct sound, but it's hard to be objective when the only critics are overly curious neighbors and my cats. (No neighbors have made fun of my Throat Singing thus far, but my cats have given me some odd looks.)

Buddhist culture seems to value art very highly. You have only to look at the beautiful Watts (temples) of Thailand to know how important art is to this Buddhist country. Evidently the spirits of Thailand have a great interest in the arts and the Thai people want to please the spirits. When I was visiting friends in Khon Kaen, we came upon an outdoor film one evening that was being hosted by a student. According to my friends, in Thai culture it is popular to earn merit by doing good deeds or otherwise pleasing the spirits, thus the student would earn merit by entertaining them.

That same week we visited the Turtle town. I can't remember the name, but it was a very small town famous for having turtles. We saw lots of softball-sized turtles crawling around in a big pen, but later we came upon people of the town hand-weaving beautiful designs on large traditional looms, which I found much more interesting. They seemed very happy with their work, which brings me to another consideration. If we create something with love, or at least in good spirits, does the creation retain that energy? Can happiness be woven into the fibers of a Monk's robes? Does our Sweat Shop-made, off-the-rack clothing retain the hard labor and anxieties of the seamstress? That hand-woven cloth was not for locals, but to be sold in the city, which reminded me of Nestle who replaced Ghana's Yam fields with cash crops that were too expensive for the citizens to consume.

Other works of art like the Mandala Sand Paintings are beautiful creations, yet are not sold and deliberately brushed away after their creation. (Except for the few that were donated to museums.) There is no effort to preserve these works and the joy is within the creation rather than preservation. There is no attempt to sell the art and the ego is not attached. Maybe art is not supposed to be for sale. Perhaps this is how the idea of the "Sell Out," originated.

I've never been to an art auction, but when I have seen them in films, the scene is usually an auditorium filled with wealthy folks nodding or lifting a finger to signal a bid. Is there a certain point when people who are so occupied with making money lose their ability to make art and therefore have to buy it?

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti, one Reporter on National News remarked that Haiti is a country of artists. There is little financial stability there unlike the neighboring Dominican Republic. Perhaps there is something to the idea of the "Starving Artist." If we are not hungry spiritually, mentally and physically perhaps we are unable to create. Or is creativity a survival skill meant to strengthen us?

I have heard some people say that they are not creative. I think everyone is born with the ability to create and there are a multitude of ways to express it, but it needs to be cultivated. It needs to be encouraged and yes, taught. People have to feel confident to create and Arts Programs nurture this confidence.

If we aren't creating are we busy destroying? It seems that in the new millennium some people drift into very corrupt behavior like gossiping, bullying, Cyberbullying, Cyberbaiting and stalking online and offline. There has been a sharp rise in bullying of all kinds in the schools, the workforce and communities in the last ten years. There are so many stories of teens or even adults taking their own lives because of group bullying. Perhaps the rise in bullying is a result of boredom and lack of creativity. Let's bring the arts back to the classroom and especially the community at large.


Seana Sperling is a freelance waiter, uh, writer, in Seattle.