Future of the Arts in a Mixed Capitalist Economy LO30824

From: Bill Harris (bill_harris@facilitatedsystems.com)
Date: 12/01/03

Replying to LO30794 --

"Ray Evans Harrell" <mcore@nyc.rr.com> writes
> In an article from yesterday's NYTimes, it said that the arts,
> cultural activities and sports had been eleminated from the Yonkers
> city schools for budgetary reasons.
> I began to think about the killer assumptions about the arts that
> could imagine such a thing.
> Following are some assumptions that I have that is based in my life
> experience and training in the arts, education and child development
> including my many years of discussion with you folks.

Thanks for your thought-provoking assumptions, Ray. I've responded with
a few comments below. They aren't well-formed thoughts but simply
reactions hoping for learning based on your reactions back.

> What is the purpose of the Arts?
> Fifty Assumptions by Ray Evans Harrell.

> Assumption 1: That being my first assumption that it is from the body.

This and a few other of your points make a claim I only really heard
(although it may have been told to me earlier) and came to believe
after I left the university (not as a music major): music is at least
as much a physical, athletic activity as it is an intellectual one.

> Assumption 2: I then assume that consciousness is possible and
> potential is developable.

I suspect most of us on this group would find that easy to agree with,
but I suspect many elsewhere might quibble with the latter part (or at
least limit its applicability).

> Assumption 5: I assume that aesthetics and the arts are the primal
> builders of the perceptual instrument through the biological device of
> pleasure.

While I see strength in your claim, how do you see science and
literature, for example? How do the observation of science and the
storytelling of literature relate to this perceptual instrument?

> Assumption 6: I assume that all concurrent expertise activities of
> the human species flow from the quality of the instrument that has
> been developed by perception and the practice of the Arts. You might
> say that in the beginning everything is built on the Arts. Eating,
> toilet training, walking, sounding, smelling, hearing, talking,
> touching, moving, etc.

Can you expand on this a bit? To the extent this may be true, it
would have a profound impact on the interests of this group, methinks.

Certainly there seems to be correlational evidence, for example some
studies I think I've heard of that indicate that musicians and
mathematicians often exist in the same body (or, better put, that
musical and mathematical talent often exists in the same person).

> Assumption 9: I assume that perceptual practice in the arts keeps the
> mind flexible and slows down the pulse of aging and keeps change more
> available.

Is that true of the arts only or of a broader range of activities? I
generally agree, and I seem to read that in the newspapers, too (which
is not to say that this assumption is at all trivial).

> Assumption 10: I assume that every profession has an artistic side to
> it and that side is what does the same thing using other skills. But
> the primal skill is based in the arts themselves.

Can you make this assumption clearer through an example? I hear (and
have spoken) of the creativity of engineering and of mathematics, and
I know both engineers and mathematicians appreciate aesthetics in what
they do. Are these examples of assumption 10?

> Assumption 11: I assume that the professions of a modern society are
> the same to that society as systems in the body.

I'll lean on a comment Bob Williams often likes to make: "There are no
such things as systems." They are our intellectual creations to help
us master the complexity of reality. That is, we find no "systems" in
the body. We find things we call a heart, arteries, veins, etc., and
we call the aggregate the circulatory system because it provides us
insight in understanding how they work together and how we might
intervene to help an ailing person. In other words, I believe he is
arguing against reification of the word "systems."

Perhaps the same thing is true of "professions"? Does that help or
affect your thinking here, if you accept that? Does that make us all
just people doing different things to meet our needs? Does that help
us think more about the artistic side of all of us?

In other words, if we make "professions" too important, are we falling
back into a limited economic view of society?

Moreover, if we use concepts such as "systems" to make sense of
reality, is what you're saying is that we do (or could) use artistic
expression or understanding even moreso to make sense of a complex

> Assumption 12: I assume that a complete look at the intelligence and
> health of the society requires not only artistic thought but also an
> examination from the viewpoint of each system.

Just a note: there's a thread from soft systems methodology that seems
trying to emerge here.

> Assumption 22: I assume that a mature, intelligent society begins to
> take responsibility for the development of its tools and systems.

One of the premises of Guns, Germs and Steel, as I recall, was that
societies began to develop when they developed agriculture to the
point that they could accumulate food. That meant that each and every
person didn't have to find their own sustenance each day, and it
allowed for specialization in society (people responsible for food,
others for organization, others for ...). More developed artistic
expression certainly was one of the specializations that arose.

> Assumption 27: I assume the necessity of leadership in achieving that
> balance.

Does that leadership come from the "top," or might it arise anywhere
in society? I suspect the latter.

> Assumption 29: I assume that research, exploration, practice and
> mastery are necessary to make sure that societies grow symmetrically
> and that the growth cycles don't become cancerous.

I might add self- and group-reflection.

> Assumption 30: I assume that the intelligence gained through the
> practice of Music and the Arts are essential to both individual and
> societal symmetricallity.

I'm quite comfortable with that. I not long ago met a client and
colleague for lunch at the café of a local art museum. As I arrived a
bit early, I spent a very reflective and pleasurable time touring part
of the exhibit. It felt helpful to me.

> Assumption 33: I assume that America has chosen to have a society of
> economic classes rather than an egalitarian society.
> Assumption 34: I assume that this choice is more recent than the
> founding of the Republic.

I'm not sure that 33 and 34 together fit the historical record.
Comments from those more knowledgeable about US history? Of course,
we may have expanded the class (economic) differences more recently.

> Assumption 35: I assume that argument about it is not an artistic
> issue but a political one and therefore not relevant to this
> discussion of the Arts.

I'd like to believe that, for it would seem to simplify the issues,
but I'm not yet sure.

> Assumption 36: I assume that the choice was made for the government to
> fund the arts and other "not for profits" through subsidy of the
> wealthy class (tax exemption).
> Assumption 37: I assume that the choice was made because of the
> ongoing culture war and not because they wished to completely "social
> engineer" the society.

I'm not sure I understand 36 and 37 yet.

> Assumption 38: I assume that the belief that trade economics is the
> only engine that can run an economy is erroneus.

I think balance is a big deal, and I would tend to agree we've lost
something I think we had in that regard. I've lived in Europe, and,
in many ways, it seemed easier to have a balanced life there than
here. That was 30 years ago, though; it certainly has changed, and I
have no recent, first-hand knowledge.

> Assumption 39: I assume that most jobs in the trade economy are not
> ultimately necessary except as a form of "make work" that
> redistributes income.

I think this bears examining. If you mean we could exist at a far
lower level of economic development, that may be true, but might
assumption 39 be the result of assumption 22?

> Assumption 41: I assume that Artistic jobs that develop intelligence
> and perceptions are good for the society.

I, too, assume that's true. I find it interesting, especially in
light of your claims, that some claims for the utility of artistic
work and effort rest on the correlation and presumed causal links
between musical education at a young age and later skills in math and
science, for example. In other words, many (but not all) of the
claims I hear are based on the artistic's utility for the economic,
not the artistic's utility for people and the collection of people we
call society.

> Assumption 42: I assume that the most complex contemporary artistic
> jobs can never exist in the world solely as trade items.
> Assumption 43: I assume that the values of society determine the
> health of the society.

How many jobs in the symphony orchestra world are supported by
recordings done by major orchestras? While on the whole such support
comes mostly from benefactors, at least in this country, as I recall,
there do seem to be exceptions for name groups in the major markets.
Is that true?

I wonder if these are moot points. If society's values were
different, then we might support more artists. But focusing on
society's values may or may not be the highest leverage way to get
where you want to be. Perhaps simply attracting people to the sounds
and sights of art is more effective.

You may be looking at the classic "(re-) starting up the system"
problem. It seems relatively easy to keep a system going or perhaps
even to make it grow (all perhaps just an illusion); starting
something from scratch (or with less than a critical mass) seems more

In writing this, I recall notes made in SOI's Harmony #15, I think.
There was an analysis of predictions made 10 years previously about
the tough times symphony orchestras would face, but the article
claimed (and substantiated) that they had in fact bettered their
position over the last decade. See

> Assumption 45: I assume that starving the average artist does nothing
> for society or for the creativity of the artist inspite of local
> myths.

I heard that myth at an early age, too. I guess I've come to believe
that each of us has enough Angst in our lives to fuel any creative
fires that might need such Angst; artistic Angst isn't purely
economic. (At, how does artistic Angst relate to the 7Es and free

> Assumption 48: I assume that every member of a Florentine Symposium
> must have crucial information necessary to the solving of the problem
> of the societal dysfunction in the arts.

Tell me more about Florentine Symposia.

> Assumption 50: I assume that there is an answer.

I, too. I think that's called "living."

> Ray Evans Harrell

Thanks, Ray. I am interested in your and others' observations back.


Bill Harris                                  3217 102nd Place SE
Facilitated Systems                          Everett, WA 98208 USA
http://facilitatedsystems.com/               phone: +1 425 337-5541

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