ART & THE PUBLIC PURPOSE
Harry Hillman Chartrand
With publication of the Final Report of 92nd American Assembly, it is time to offer some observations and thoughts. Nearly 100 people from the profit, nonprofit and public sectors of the American arts industry came together, talked and collectively drafted a consensus report concerning Art and the Public Purpose. To my knowledge this was the first time that these communities have formally met to discuss their hopes and fears and possible ways of working together. It was, however, the second time that the American Assembly has addressed questions about the role and place of the arts in America. In 1990, the Assembly addressed The Arts & Government - Questions for the Nineties.
The 92nd Assembly, and its most recent report, represents a significant station stop along the road to full societal recognition and informed investment in the American arts industry. There were, however, two tears in the fabric of the 92nd Assembly and in its Final Report. One involves definition, the other, inclusiveness. The organizers, in spite of their heroic best efforts could avoid neither.
First, the Assembly did not produce a clear, concise and compelling definition of the American arts industry. Lacking such a definition, we are left with an amorphous, ill-defined sector of American society struggling for self-identity. Thus the arts, in my mind, remain unable to effectively compete in the court of public opinion with clearly defined economic 'sectors' such as business, education, health, science and technology. Having prepared a background paper for the Assembly, attended its deliberations and read its final report, I now offer such a definition:
The arts industry, or more properly, 'the arts sector' includes all profit, nonprofit and public enterprise and institutions including incorporated and unincorporated enterprise as well as self-employed artists that:
(a) use one or more of the arts as a primary factor of production, e.g.
advertising, fashion, industrial and product design;
The term 'tide-good' requires further explanation. An example is the old 'punch card' computer. The computer could not operate without such cards, which, technically, were an output of the pulp, paper and publishing industries, sequentially. Similarly, there can be no mass market for home entertainment hardware, e.g. TVs and VCRs, unless there is a mass market for audio-video software, and vice-versa. These are tied-goods in consumption; they are like hand and glove.
Furthermore, it is likely that the home entertainment center is the third most expensive consumer durable purchased by the average American, after his or her house and car. Similarly, private collections of books, photographs, records, tapes and works in the visual arts (including black velveteen Elvis') are present in every American home and represent an enormous repository of American cultural and financial wealth.
Using this inclusive definition, one can say that the American arts industry
accounts for at least 6% and at most 8.5% of Gross National Product, i.e. all
goods and services consumed in America but not necessarily produced there.
ranks at most 6th and at least 7th among the ten major sectors of the American
economy recognized by the Department of Commerce including, in descending order
by income size: manufacturing; services; finance; government; transportation and
utilities; retail trade; wholesale trade; construction; agriculture, forestry
and fishing; and, mining.
Second, while the Assembly succeeded in bringing some parts of the profit, nonprofit and public sector arts communities together, it failed to achieve full integration of all market segments of the arts industry. The media and performing arts dominated the Assembly with much lip service paid to arts education and amateurism. To a degree, the dominant coalition reflects a contemporary courtship of the screen by the stage arts in a period of public sector cutbacks and fiscal restraint. Thus the Disney Corporation was held in awe by the live nonprofit performing arts community represented at the Assembly because of Disney's success in reversing the traditional path from stage to screen, e.g. Beauty and the Beast from screen to stage. Absent or under-represented at the Assembly, however, were three important segments of the industry - the applied and decorative arts, arts labor unions and the education through art movement.
First, the applied and decorative arts were under-represented at the Assembly with a sole architect representing the interests and aspirations of this market segment. Architects and designers represent almost 45% of all Census defined artists. Architects and designers are the visual ecologists of the human environment. It is they who apply art to the skylines of our cities, the clothes we wear, the malls at which we shop, the design of the cereal boxes on our breakfast tables, our homes and furnishings, the cars we drive, the places we work and the churches and temples in which we pray. As to why were they under-represented, a partial and incomplete answer will be presented below under d) Implications.
Second, arts labor unions were conspicuous by their absence. They represent one of the most unionized, educated and powerful sectors of the American labor movement. After the public sector, the arts industry is probably the most unionized sector in America. To the credit of the organizers of the Assembly they were invited. They choose not to attend. Why? Probably because of traditional animus between labor and management which was well represented at the Assembly. Even in the arts industry, tension between labor and management remains high and trust low.
The "education through art movement", one of few 'integrative' intellectual movements in modern America, was absent from the Assembly. "Art thru ed' sees art as 'a way of knowing" as important to cognitive skill development of adults and children as reading, writing and arithmetic. It promotes a distinct multicultural, transnational 'mindscape' not limited to the production skills taught through 'arts education'.
The word education derives from "educe" meaning "to bring out, develop from latent or potential existence". Traditionally, this has involved the intellectual and moral faculties. This contrasts with "training" which means "bringing to a desired state or standard of efficiency by instruction and practice". Education thus refers to something inherent to the individual while training refers to something external. As one progresses through primary, secondary and tertiary education the two terms blur leading from general to specialized education and training.
Beyond general and professional education, however, there lays the question of specialized education in the arts at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels offered by the profit (including private teachers), nonprofit and public sectors. mong professional educators there are at least four distinct types of education in art. The first is 'art education' which usually refers to development of visual arts skills such as drawing and painting. The second is 'arts education' which generally refers to skill development in any of the art forms - literary, media, performing or visual arts. The third is 'discipline-based education', a term coined by the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, which refers to a sequential and cumulative study of art integrating arts production, art history, art criticism and aesthetics. It should be noted that its Chairperson represented the Getty Center at the Assembly. Finally, there is 'education through art' which refers to art as a distinct 'way of knowing' oneself and one's world including teaching subjects such as mathematics and science through the arts.
Education through art reflects a view similar to that put forward by the Club of Rome seven years after its 1972 classic The Limits to Growth. In 1979 the Club published No Limits to Learning in which it proposed that the most important planetary resource was human learning. The authors noted, however, that while there was no limit to learning, contemporary society tends to elevate language and mathematics above all other forms of learning including the arts. Similarly, Naom Chomsky has suggested that the artistic faculty (like language) is a genetic organ like eyes and ears.
The absence of these three communities - the applied and decorative arts, arts labor unions and education through art - reflects, in my mind, continuing unease in America about the marriage between aesthetic and utilitarian values. This, in turn, brings to mind an old 'British-style' definition of art as useless and unique with the upper classes going to the Academy while the crafts are useful and reproducible with the lower classes go to design schools. The inability to integrate the 'useful arts' at the Assembly perpetuates an artistic apartheid that has historically plagued and 'ghettoized' the diverse communities of interest that make up the arts industry in America. It is a plague that must be cured if America is to retain cultural economic dominance in the emerging global knowledge-based economy of the 21st century.
Among the recommendations emerging from the Assembly and its Final Report is a call for more research and more meetings. Given the path-breaking role played by the 92nd American Assembly in bringing the profit, nonprofit and public sector arts communities together, it is to be hoped that a chain reaction will set in across America. This would provide the opportunity to produce a clear, concise and compelling definition of the American arts industry and achieve full integration of all its diverse market segments. Then and only then can the full force and power of the arts be brought to bear in the court of public opinion to shape the future face of America. This is a just and noble cause. Art, after all, is as important as science to the economy. It is also as important, if not more so, to the mental health, welfare and education of the human psyche. In this century, science has given us the vision of the earth from space - one world, one biosphere and one human race. In the next century, art must mold a humanistic mask for this futuristic vision.