A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer.
It sings because it has a song.
~ Maya Angelou
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Earlier this week I watched this year’s Kennedy Center Honors program on CBS. I usually have to watch it online, so I was delighted to stumble onto it in prime time. My favorite musician and songwriter, Sting, was one of the honorees, which thrilled me to no end. But what touched me so deeply, even before I knew the honoree lineup, was the reading of President John F. Kennedy’s quotes about art and culture. I’ve written about my views on art and beauty before. Hearing this sparked my passions anew. And to top off the night with whipped cream and a cherry was hearing Carl Kassell speak these powerful words. It made them truly come alive for me.
There is so much that distracts us today. There is so much happening in the world. These are, indeed, intense times. It is easy to be afraid, doubt, react, be angry. Those feelings are usually what’s at the surface and they can be so seductive. But when you look beyond what is only one layer of experience, one perspective, there is more to see, feel, know, experience. Under that raw and rocky surface, there is also, beauty, passion, love, hope, creativity, compassion…life. And art is so often the spark we need to see it, the expression as we feel it, or the reminder that life does have sides, perspectives, textures, tones. Art, in all its forms, can not only inspire us to the light, it can also help us to make sense of the dark or come to some kind of peace with it. To show us the shades of gray in between. Art can find us in our solitude or connect us with our community.
Art and culture, beauty and creativity…they are not frivolous and unnecessary, nor a waste of time…rather, vital, life-giving, life-affirming. They go beyond mind into heart. They infuse life into our lives.
Art is truly human.
And as the program seeks to do….art and creativity are to be held up, revered…and honored.
So I invite you to read these words…feel these words…and let YOUR art out!
From the Kennedy Center website:
President Kennedy was a great supporter of the arts; inscribed on the walls of the River Terrace, just outside the Grand Foyer, you will find quotes from speeches in which he spoke of his vision for America’s cultural life.
THERE IS A CONNECTION, HARD TO EXPLAIN LOGICALLY BUT EASY TO FEEL, BETWEEN ACHIEVEMENT IN PUBLIC LIFE AND PROGRESS IN THE ARTS. THE AGE OF PERICLES WAS ALSO THE AGE OF PHIDIAS. THE AGE OF LORENZO DE MEDICI WAS ALSO THE AGE OF LEONARDO DA VINCI, THE AGE OF ELIZABETH ALSO THE AGE OF SHAKESPEARE, AND THE NEW FRONTIER FOR WHICH I CAMPAIGN IN PUBLIC LIFE, CAN ALSO BE A NEW FRONTIER FOR AMERICAN ART.
Letter to Miss Theodate Johnson, Publisher, Musical America, September 13, 1960
I AM CERTAIN THAT AFTER THE DUST OF CENTURIES HAS PASSED OVER OUR CITIES, WE, TOO, WILL BE REMEMBERED NOT FOR VICTORIES OR DEFEATS IN BATTLE OR IN POLITICS, BUT FOR OUR CONTRIBUTION TO THE HUMAN SPIRIT.
On behalf of the National Cultural Center which would come to bear his name November 29, 1962
TO FURTHER THE APPRECIATION OF CULTURE AMONG ALL THE PEOPLE. TO INCREASE RESPECT FOR THE CREATIVE INDIVIDUAL, TO WIDEN PARTICIPATION BY ALL THE PROCESSES AND FULFILLMENTS OF ART — THIS IS ONE OF THE FASCINATING CHALLENGES OF THESE DAYS.
“The Arts in America,” Look, December 18, 1962
THIS COUNTRY CANNOT AFFORD TO BE MATERIALLY RICH AND SPIRITUALLY POOR.
State of the Union Message, January 14, 1963
I LOOK FORWARD TO AN AMERICA WHICH WILL REWARD ACHIEVEMENT IN THE ARTS AS WE REWARD ACHIEVEMENT IN BUSINESS OR STATECRAFT. 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.
At Amherst College, October 26, 1963
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