Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Are the Arts Essential?

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Are the Arts Essential? is a collection of expository essays edited and curated by Dr. Alberta Arthurs and Mr. Michael DiNiscia. Due out 22nd Feb 2022 from The NYU Press, it's 344 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

The titular question is (obviously) rhetorical. Over the history of humanity, nearly every crisis, every celebration, every milestone, every momentous occasion has been marked by some kind of artistic expression. When the latest pandemic struck and we were all forced to live on our small islands, we turned to arts and the creative folks who share themselves through their various media to keep us sane and to take us out of ourselves and to keep us safe, if only for a little while. We binge watched TV and films, we read and listened to music at levels never before experienced. We invented new ways to be together when we couldn't physically be near. We knitted and painted, sculpted, wrote, sang, and used creativity to bolster our mental and physical well-being.

This book is a collection of ruminations from eminent scholars and professionals. There are professors of art and ethics, music history, PBS correspondents, museum directors, musicians, composers, visual artists, and others gathered here. I was surprised at how accessible most of the essays were, given that academics sometimes (rightfully) get bad press for being inscrutable and, well, incomprehensible.The essays are gathered thematically into five main sections: how the arts strengthen society, how the arts help individuals, how they create community, how they engage and support the sciences, and how they document history and support truth. 

These are not all easy to read or particularly accessible. Some of them had no immediate relevance to me and I confess, I read them dutifully. A number of them, however, interested me, and made me very glad for access to the libraries and museums (increasingly widely represented in online accessible collections) and the creativity and generosity of the folks making art and sharing it with their fellow humans.

This is a niche book, and will largely fall into the hands of the relative few who already have a vital vested interest in the performing or visual arts, or allied academic fields. It should be required reading for lawmakers and representatives, for the important people holding the purse strings and the local boards-of-education who are making the decisions about art and dance and writing education in schools. That's a shame. 

Five stars. Important ideas presented well herein. This would make a good selection for library acquisition, for folks interested in the arts, as well as nonfiction fans. 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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