Tuesday, August 18, 2009

art knows no flag

the always excellent Adam Forrest Huttler quotes the also-always-excellent Rachael Maddow speaking as part of "Pillow Talk," hosted by Jacob's Pillow Dance on the patriotic nature of artistic expression:

Sometimes we choose to serve our country in uniform, in war. Sometimes in elected office. And those are the ways of serving our country that I think we are trained to easily call heroic. It’s also a service to your country, I think, to teach poetry in the prisons, to be an incredibly dedicated student of dance, to fight for funding music and arts education in the schools. A country without an expectation of minimal artistic literacy, without a basic structure by which the artists among us can be awakened and given the choice of following their talents and a way to get to be great at what they do, is a country that is not actually as a great as it could be. And a country without the capacity to nurture artistic greatness is not being a great country. It is a service to our country, and sometimes it is heroic service to our country, to fight for the United States of America to have the capacity to nurture artistic greatness...
While I agree with the sentiment that creative endeavors are a form of public service, I disagree with the argument that that are a patriotic act. Creativity doesn't end at a border on a map: great art necessarily transcends national boundaries, because the creative impulse is a universal impulse.

Now, if you want to argue that the freedoms we're granted in this country create an exceptional arena for creative expression, I'll grant you that argument has some merit. However, that's the beginning of the argument, not the end. Freedom should be celebrated and exported: it is a quality that should be shared worldwide, not hoarded as a national resource at the expense of others. (Also, let's remember that some of the most spectacular artistic works that have been created under incredibly repressive regimes: creativity not only blooms in spite of censorship, it can sometimes be inspired by it.)

I understand the larger goal of Maddow's comments: to explain that love of country is not the exclusive province of the narrow-minded, and that filling the coffers of the NEA funding can be a patriotic act. But as we try to at least share the flag with the know-nothings, let's make sure that we don't share their chauvinism.

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