Art and life

Via Craft I came across this article about a guy in San Francisco who, on one afternoon every month, sets up a sewing machine on the street and sews whatever people bring him. Sure, Michael Swaine is a performance artist. But one could also say that he’s someone who’s just trying to connect with other people. In this age of disposable everything, people who can’t sew rarely bother to mend their clothes, I think. Why pay someone money to fix a shirt when you can get a brand-spankin’ new one for only a few bucks more, right?

I also think this is one of those rare cases where art actually does touch the masses. It’s not hung up in some hoity-toity gallery, or set on a stage or concert hall for which paid tickets are mandatory. It’s right there on the street, accessible to anyone. The utilitarian nature of this project–fixing people’s stuff–makes it easier for people to engage it. Instead of trying to wrap their heads around an abstract painting or interesting wordplay or major and minor themes in a piece of music (not that those projects aren’t worthwhile, too), people can just ask someone, “Hey, can you fix this for me?” and end up having a conversation with that person.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu theorized that the production of art is one way in which the ruling class maintains its status. They have access to the material capital to produce it. A truly democratic society, he argued, should provide gobs of funding for art. (Yes, I know this summary doesn’t even begin to do justice to Bourdieu’s massive oeuvre and incredibly influential work.) We have the NEA here, but that agency funds only people who are “officially” recognized as artists. That money isn’t spread around nearly as widely as Bourdieu would have liked.

I’m not sure how much money should go to public art. I’m not sure how art should–or can–even be defined in these cases. But I do see a need for publicly supported encouragement of creativity. Having worked for two different educational publishers and one organization that was involved in educational activities, I know how state-mandated educational standards have affected what goes on in classrooms. Funding for art, music, and theater programs in elementary, middle, and high schools keeps getting cut because those subjects aren’t seen as “important” enough; that is, they aren’t generally part of the core subjects that students are tested on these days. And by “tested” I mean “taught to memorize tons of information that will be on a standardized test.” Yes, a lot of this is stuff that students ought to know. But what about standard-less creativity? What about time to draw a picture or play a song not to have it evaluated in some way but just for the sheer joy and self-expression?

One Response to “Art and life”

  1. Your Secret Pal 10on 16 Mar 2007 at 3:09 pm

    :The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu theorized that the production of art is one way in which the ruling class maintains its status.:

    I couldn’t disagree with this more. What about a child who uses their finger to draw a masterpiece in the dirt? Though, I do think I get the basic gist of what you are saying that Bourdieu is implying, art isn’t art unless it’s a grand bronze sculpture or oil on canvas?

    [Note to self, google “Bourdieu” this afternoon]

    :But I do see a need for publicly supported encouragement of creativity.:

    However, this bandwagon I can jump right on. I think creativity in ANY form is good for the soul. It allows for the expression of emotion as a release. Can you imagine how much less anger some people might have if they felt is was ok, even (gasp!) more socially acceptable, to scribble on paper as a release? Or what if adults were encouraged to finger paint when they were stressed to the limit to allow their “inner child” to take over? Or everyone saw the beauty in self expression through word, not just perfectly worded poetry?

    Anyway, I’ll stop rambling in your blog!

    — Your Secret Pal 10