Telling It Like It Is

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt compelled to write. In fact, I don’t actually feel compelled to write, and I’ll tell you why: I struggle with the great void, and wonder if  any singular voice adds one iota of worth to the grotesque narrative playing out in this country. We are in a perpetual state of deeply disturbing hostility, an inane and unnecessary protracted battle for common sense laws—and it’s personal to many of us. Our nation has been hijacked by thugs—racist, homophobic, narcissistic, greedy, morally corrupt criminals who are raping and pillaging our country (that’s the short list)—for their own personal gain.

We are now a closed system evolving toward a state of maximum entropy. Entropy. A measure of the loss of information in transmitted signal or message. Entropy. A hypothetical tendency for the universe to attain a state of maximum homogeneity in which all matter is at a uniform temperature (heat death).

ENTROPY. A doctrine of inevitable social decline and degeneration. Look it up, it’s in the dictionary.  I read too much and I think about this too often, this mad —and I mean that in every sense of the word—country of ours. I’m angry, I’m likely depressed. I want an answer to: How do we wrestle the reigns from these evil forces?

But, here’s the thing, I don’t want to write about our sad state. I don’t want to write at all. In any event, there’s enough good and honest reporting by the best of media outlets (by which I mean The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic…). I believe that most of us know where lies lay like dirty bombs, and we see and hear the fallout of explosive rhetoric and fake news. So, no, I don’t want to add to that void. I want to make art and love and humor and empathy and joy. Yes, joy! And I have a hunch that if we all create more uplifting and constructive matter and deeds, we will eventually rise from our charred, psychopathic, Beckett-like landscape where nothing nurtures and everything important is neglected. Do you know that the words beneficial and helpful are synonymous with progressive? Whether you like or not, true.

This is all to say, here’s some art, my art—an erasure poem/collage (minus the frame). I’m sharing it with you. It’s a piece that’s currently hanging in Art League Rhode Island‘s 2018 Members Exhibition in Warwick, where it was given an Honorary Mention. Sharing art feels a whole lot better than shouting into the void.

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Ill Fares the Race

Art is identical with a state of capacity to make, involving a true course of reasoning. ~ Aristotle

It’s not only artists and philosophers who understand the value and power of art and artistic endeavors, how the same inspires us and changes our lives for the better. Winston Churchill, UK’s former Prime Minister and British Army officer, many years ago said, “The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

Imagine a world without art, without culture? How do we exist in a world void of culture?  How do we express ourselves? How do we comfort ourselves? How do we rid ourselves of ruinous emotions? How do we redeem ourselves?

We can’t, we don’t, we won’t. Our primal urge to create works of art, however, will not end by way of Trump’s blunt spear, but it seems our new administration and our intellectually, culturally, socially and morally challenged POTUS aim to point us toward a second Dark Ages.

But it won’t happen. This morning, I attended a cultural conversation about arts and humanities led by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse—a longtime ardent supporter of the arts and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities—and hosted by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. In the audience were many artists—writers, poets (including Rhode Island’s poet laureate Tina Cane), storytellers, musicians, actors, painters, photographers and the like—all of whom are understandably anxious about Congress’s zeroing out of funding for the arts.

Of the NEA defunding, Whitehouse said that the “bottom line is a horrible budget out of [POTUS], but the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter.” The budget process, he said, has become a theatre, and the real bottom line “is where the budget meets the road [which is] at the Appropriations process.”

And a glimmer of light. Because the road has paths that lead to alternative funding. And because Senator Whitehouse, as well as Senator Jack Reed and other RI representatives believe, know, that our artistic community is integrally linked to our state’s economy. And because the NEA’s budget is only 4/1000s of our entire budget. The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities each have budgets of approximately $148 million a year. Add in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting at $445 million (as of the end of January 2017), and combined we spend only $741 million dollars on our arts and humanities programs, which is “less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the United States’ annual federal spending, an amount supporters say is too small to make a difference.”

It was roughly six years ago that NEA’s then acting chairman, Rocco Landesman, praised RI’s artistic community. “There are three key ingredients for the arts to thrive:” said Landesman, “a local tradition of the arts, a committed philanthropic sector, and political leadership that ‘gets it.’ … The arts are flourishing in our state,” he said, and that “is a great testament to the dedication and support that began with Senator Whitehouse, and indeed, all of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation.”

Six years later, Senator Whitehouse is still fighting for the arts. It was an encouraging moment (yet sad) when the senator promised that “[Art and Humanties] programs are going to be significantly cut, but only over our dead bodies.” Saying that “arts are a critical part of every young person’s education,” he reminded us that through art, young minds learn to think creatively and critically, which translates to better scholars and collaborators. Though we already know this, don’t we?

Seems our youth do, too. At the meeting, two fifth grade girls (twins) from Warren asked the final question: “Why can’t we do so much more art in elementary school?”

The U.S. owes it to itself to sus­tain and encourage the arts and humanities. We know this, our children know this. But how to convince our country, our communities, of the importance of the arts?  “You can’t bargain with these people, Whitehouse says. “You can’t stand up to a bully by saying maybe if you take my lunch money I’ll keep my hat.” While congress may be driven by statistics, the senator says that they’re also driven by the power of story. Nothing is more powerful than story. “Tell your story. Go to your passion,” says Whitehouse. “Show individual cases where what you do makes a difference; [by using] emotional appeal in your argument [you can] control the narrative in Washington.”

Defunding cannot silence us, cannot break us. Tell, show, your story from the top of every mountain to the bottom of every valley. Write, speak, act, paint your story. Let Congress know how the arts have impacted your life.

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