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Commentary: Diluting Art With 'The Arts'

Antonio Litterio

We should be careful as a society, and city, not to blur the line between art and “the arts.”

“The arts” functions as a philanthropic umbrella with goals that have economic impact and help our children do better in school, and get along -- all noble and worthwhile efforts. While these “arts” organizations might do good, art is different.

Art belongs to the artist and the people.

Creativity isn’t art, either. Not all creative people are artists, and not everyone is creative. Not all professions require or benefit from creativity. If everyone is creative or artistic, then no one is creative or artistic. We need people who think procedurally and analytically, not always creatively.

Art is a profession that requires skill and craft, not just a keen eye and intuition. And because it is rare to make a living in one’s art, some real artists — not amateurs, but real, professional artists — also have day jobs. They are your neighbors, lawyers, statisticians, nurses, pipe-fitters, mechanics, carpenters and masons; and they are also painters, sculptors, playwrights, composers, violinists, poets, actors and dancers.

But how can we define art, when art is constantly devalued? Art is reduced to creativity or philanthropy. Art becomes mediocrity glorified through a filter and savvy marketing. A picture of a carefully arranged book, cup of coffee on a dark wood-stained table is filtered, posted and shared, liked, loved, re-tweeted all in praise of aesthetic, symmetry, design and creativity.

All the while, art is actually being made in a garage that smells and has poor lighting, music is written in the solitude of a living room on a cheap piano, words are carefully arranged in bed on a scrap of paper with a blunt pencil.

Art is uneven, messy and imperfect, even in its perfectest form. It magnifies and clarifies the complexity of human emotion and experience. Art speaks truth to power. It doesn’t fit neatly on a page or provide a sense of comfort and belonging. It doesn’t fit in social media, filtered and shared, liked and loved.

Art struggles to be understood, not from the creator’s intention to fit the stereotypical “misunderstood artist” persona, but because she herself rarely understands fully.

Art as an expression of these things is more valuable than philanthropy and creativity.

Daniel Gilliam is a composer and Louisville Public Media's Director of Radio. 

Daniel Gilliam is Program Director for LPM Classical. Email Daniel at dgilliam@lpm.org.

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