When times are unstable and political upheavals begin to sprout and financial troubles abound, artists and intellectuals become the scapegoat. The dictionary defines a scapegoat this way, “a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, esp. for reasons of expediency.” It’s the last part that intrigues me. expediency: “a means of attaining an end, esp. one that is convenient but considered improper or immoral.”
It is expedient to get rid of artists and intellectuals. It’s easy to say that they certainly aren’t essential. Artists? Useless. Intellectuals? Annoying pontificators, all of them.
An engineer attended one of my writing workshops a few years ago. He was an older gentlemen, in his eighties, writing a book about his experiences in World War II. I really liked the perspective that he gave to the group. One day, however, he up and quit over a writing prompt. Sometimes I use quotes.
This was the one that day: “And while a hundred civilizations have prospered (sometimes for centuries) without computers or windmills or even the wheel, none have survived even a few generations without art.”
The engineer took issue with that. I’ll have to say that it got him going. He wrote how art is definitely not essential. In fact, it’s a luxury. Frou-frou. An unnecessary pastime. He said that he obviously didn’t belong in our group. I responded by telling him that his differing opinion was just what we wanted in a writers’ group. But, to no avail. He never came back. It’s just as well. The subject would have come up again. He would have felt outnumbered. Writers are artists.
How can art be equated with survival? Isn’t that rather ridiculous? Such audacity to think that art is so important… okay, then, let’s take art out of the equation. Let’s look at life without art.
No music. No dance. No theater. No paintings. No sculpture. No pottery. No jewelry. No weaving. No poetry. No stories. What am I leaving out? thousands of other forms of art that we have in our daily lives. art that we take for granted. like the buildings we live in. the furniture we sit on. the clothes we wear.
If that’s too frou-frou for you, we can talk about art on a more practical level. Art as the precursor to invention. The wheel. Tools. Windmills. Machines. Planes, trains and automobiles. Medical advances. Communications. If it weren’t for someone envisioning a wheel and then translating that vision into a useful reality, then we would still be walking around with blisters on our feet.
Yeah, let’s get rid of the artists. Lock up the intellectuals. We don’t want anybody doing any thinking.