Why our artistic roots matter

Why our artistic roots matter

Vanessa Chumbley
This is a crosspost by guest contributor Vanessa Chumbley, originally published on BayArt.org. To submit writing to Schmopera.com, get in touch at [email protected].

You’ve probably noticed how the artistic community has taken up arms over this most recent scandal in a Wells Fargo ad campaign. The implied message that being a dancer, actor, musician, or artist is all fine and good for the extra curricular section of your college application, but an unworthy profession has struck a very negative chord among artistic professionals from Broadway to Hollywood.

The irony here, of course, is that this campaign – and indeed any advertising ever – would be impossible without the work of artistic professionals. The photographer who takes the shot, the art directors who stage the shot, the lighting, wardrobe, hair and makeup professionals who light and dress the people in the shot, the graphic designers who make it into the final image that we see, and – oh yeah – the ACTORS in the photographs?!? All this just for still photographic advertising – the number of artists involved grows even more when talking about the commercials we see on TV.

It’s no secret that many professionals in the arts struggle to make ends meet. There is little to no job security, financial stability, or benefits that people in other fields often take for granted. Artistic professionals are often self employed or freelancers. It is an unfortunate reality of our field that artists are sometimes asked to provide their services for free, in exchange for “great exposure”. What a steaming pile of horse shit.

These harsh realities are the reasons some parents cringe upon hearing their child wants to major in creative writing or drama. I can understand their fears, they just want their children to be thriving, successful members of society.

The hope is always that the up and coming generation will be better off than the previous one, not struggling to pay bills while living in a shitty studio apartment in that area of town. Knowing all of this, I was still shocked and enraged to read about the lengths some parents have gone to in order to ensure their children graduate with a degree that will result in a stable and financially secure career.

As an artistic professional in the trenches everyday trying to make a living by following my passion, the state of affairs within the arts community fills me with a sometimes paralyzing fear. The reason so many of us are struggling, having to bartend on the side, and being asked to provide our services for free is because the majority of the public does not understand, and therefore does not support, the performing arts.

So many people are woefully under educated about the classical arts specifically, their history, and how vital they are to our past, present, and future. Individuals are not fully to blame for their ignorance as funding for arts education is usually the first to go when cuts are necessary, only instilling and furthering the absurdity that knowledge of the arts is superfluous.

There is also the common argument that the classical arts are “elitist” and expensive. Yes, many of the better ballet, opera, and symphony tickets can be expensive – however still far cheaper then Beyonce tickets, or comparable seats to a performance of Hamilton. And because the opera, ballet, and symphony are in a never ending financial struggle, all of them offer various discounts and ways to get cheap tickets. If the emphasis on arts education remained intact, our young people would grow up with a knowledge which would lead to an understanding, an appreciation, and hopefully to support in the fiscal sense. This would help our future Alan Rickmans, Maya Angelous, and Quentin Tarantinos follow their dreams with hope, and help subdue the fears of their families.

The evolution of these classical arts is what has brought us everything from Game of Thrones to The Beatles to So You Think You Can Dance. But before there was Netflix, Harry Potter, or MJ’s moonwalk, there were the melodies of Puccini, the feet of Baryshnikov, the words of Shakespeare, the strokes of Picasso’s brush. So many artists like these changed the world, and created ripples in time that still resonate with us today. Those that followed were able to build upon and expand on the work of these revolutionaries, which lead to the evolution of today’s writers, musicians, artists, dancers, and creators. These great artists of our past are also the result of a long history of human beings who created art, literature and music that was essential to their community, history, and development.

Last week I wrote about finding roots. Music, dance, literature, art – these are the roots of every morsel of human creativity and expression that exists today. They cannot be denied. They cannot be overlooked. We cannot allow them to be forgotten. What if Meryl Streep’s parents had denied her the freedom to study drama, had pressured her into a degree in botany, as Wells Fargo would have them do? What if J.K. Rowling had denied her creative needs, made the responsible choice for the sake of her young child and become a nurse instead? This article says it better than I – what would have happened is that the world would have lost two vibrant, important, female artists in exchange for mediocre, dispassionate botanists and nurses. Definitely a lose-lose scenario.

And guess what – you don’t become Meryl Streep without studying Shakespeare. You don’t become Misty Copeland without studying Baryshnikov. You don’t compose the Star Wars theme without studying Bach, Brahms, and Shostakovich. You don’t write Harry Potter without studying Dostoyevsky, Dickens, and Wilde.

When was the last time you went to a movie? Took a barre class? Went to a rock concert? How about the last time you bought tickets to the opera? The ballet? The symphony? Your local art museum? Failure to support the roots of all human creativity and expression is already hurting our present artistic community, and will continue to have devastating effects on all future creativity unless we change our approach to the arts. Unless we acknowledge that they are just as important to human growth and development as science, technology, or medicine.

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