Alpharetta is on a path that would create its own Arts Commission, a volunteer panel that would foster cultural enrichment within the city.
The group would advise the City Council on the acquisition of art works and how government can help promote the arts.
Great news for those who draw landscapes, not so good for those who draw lines in the sand. Any time government cozies up to the arts, there are inevitably critics who protest their tax dollars put to purposes other than roads and public safety.
Piloting a campaign of culture is hard enough with private dollars. Add tax money to the mix, and you’re asking for it.
Look at the incessant calls to end government support for Public Broadcasting and Public Radio. Listen to the howls when a local gallery spends government grant money for a work many find objectionable. Worse yet are those with no opinion of art at all, as long as their tax dollars aren’t being used to express it.
It’s a tricky business, this cultural arts thing. I have my doubts.
How do you inspire a population to foster achievement, promote appreciation for a discipline so difficult to define?
What is art?
The noted poetry critic John Ciardi once complained of “the lack of criteria” for art. He admitted to having friends who suggested throwing coffee-soaked tissues at canvass was as much a work of art as anything, so long as the artist is sincere.
“Is sincerity enough?” he asked.
Ciardi argued for criteria, informed standards that a vast majority agree should be elemental within an art form. He decried the flood of so-called “poetry” he received in his mailbox each year.
“We’re all poets,” he concluded. The difference, he said, is that there are precious few who have put in the effort to master the techniques of poetry – its rhythms, its weight on words, its arrangement of ideas. For everyone else, their “great poem” never materializes on paper because its journey from the mind to the pen does not run along an informed path.
Art is not easy, but art appreciation is even more difficult, especially here in America.
The Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, is a covered wooden footbridge spanning the river Reuss in Lucerne, Switzerland. On the interior of its canopy are paintings dating back to the 17th century. I found myself walking that path some years ago.
As I strolled across the bridge, distracted by the magnificence of Lucerne, visible in sort of letterbox format between the railing and canopy, I was struck by a dreary realization. What I noticed most was not the artwork adorning my enclosure, it was the absence of graffiti.
There were no initials carved or scratched anywhere, no spray-painted figurines. All clear – for centuries. Would such a phenomenon be possible here? Be honest.
A month before his death, President Kennedy spoke about our appreciation for art while attending the groundbreaking for the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College in Massachusetts.
This speech was important to Kennedy because he’d failed to repay the late poet for appearing at his inauguration in 1961. He redrafted the speech even on the plane to Amherst.
This is what he said: “I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft,” he said. “I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”