Last weekend, while visiting in my in-laws in Cleveland, Ohio for Thanksgiving, I was able to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art. The museum was hosting an exhibition called “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse”. The exhibition contained many impressionist paintings, which are always favorites of mine.
For me, visiting an art museum is a spiritual experience. As I walk through the galleries, studying the expressions of the artists’ imaginations, it’s as if I am drinking in an elixir that opens my mind and helps me see the world both as it is and as it could be.
I’m at a loss to understand why the arts are relegated to a second place status in our national culture and in our education system. It often seems to me that many of our leaders regard the arts as a nice frivolity that has no economic value. The logic seems to be that only math and science are needed to compete economically and for innovation. In my opinion, to regard art as secondary or as a frivolity is profoundly ignorant and absolutely detrimental to society.
Art is foundational to both economic and technological progress. Exposure to art opens our minds to the possible and gives us a fresh perspective on what already exists. Art education is where we learn to create, to imagine, and to communicate our innermost thoughts and ideas. Science and math are of little value in the absence of imagination and creativity. Before you can build it, you have to imagine it.
Albert Einstein, often considered the greatest scientist of the 20th century, is quoted as saying:
“The greatest scientists are artists as well.”
Additionally, the arts were so important to Einstein that he is said to have remarked,
“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician.”
In more recent times, the founders of the two largest technology companies, Microsoft and Apple, both pointed to the importance of art in the development of their companies. Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, stated:
“I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities….the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country.”
Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, also recognized the importance of the arts when he said:
“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
We cannot ignore the value of art in simply improving the quality of life in our communities. Consider the cultural differences between living in Paris, France, with its many artistic resources and influences, and a less artistic city, such as Jacksonville, Florida. Paris is legendary, largely because of its artistic richness.
I am fortunate. I have the arts in my life. I had art and music in my elementary school when I was a child. I have access to great music and just about any book of literature I could ever want to read. I play guitar, violin, and banjo. I see theatre and have written and performed a musical play in two Fringe Festivals. In my life I’ve been able to visit some of the great art museums of the world such as my recent visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art. I know the impact art has had on my life, but I also know that many people don’t have the arts in their lives. We must make sure that art is in our schools and in our small towns and communities. Now more than ever, we need the inspiration that art provides us to see our world in new ways and to recognize the potential that surrounds us. After all, it all begins with the arts.