Arts and Social Protest – Vision Statement

The Arts and Social and Political Protest and Persuasion Blog is for students and bloggers to provide a site for  multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary  dialogue on a subject that utilizes the various Humanities disciplines to study human evolution and change precipitated by aesthetic advocacy.

Background Definitions

The Humanities consist of a group of disciplines devoted to both the historic and contemporary study of the meaning of life as articulated through culture. The disciplines of the Humanities include literature (drama, prose and poetry), languages, philosophy, history, architecture, the visual arts, music and dance, which can be studied using a variety of approaches:

·Disciplinary – the systematic study of the history, methodology and specialized language and symbols of a single discipline;

·Interdisciplinary – an adjective describing the interaction among two or more different disciplines; combining methodology and language from more than one discipline to examine a central theme, issue, problem, topic, or experience;

·Crossdisciplinary – Viewing one discipline from the perspective of another – e.g. A literature course that analyzed a novel by utilizing the musical structure of exposition, development, and recapitulation would be crossdisciplinary;

·Multidisciplinary – The juxtaposition of several disciplines focused on one problem with no direct attempt to integrate the disciplines.

The study of Arts and Social and Political Protest and Persuasion requires the use of all four approaches.

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The products of the various Humanities disciplines become the canon of the community – the voice of culture in society.

The term `culture’ has been appropriated for two distinct but related ends.  Within the primary definition, anthropologists uses it to mean the customs and rituals that seal the bond of membership – the `common culture’ that distinguishes `us’ from `them’.  It denotes the total structure of life of a particular society.    Culture consists of distinguishing patterns of behavior and thinking which form customs, rituals and practices in areas such as arts, technology, philosophy and religion, political and economic systems, styles of dress, ways of producing and cooking food and language.   Culture is the shared perspective of a group of people across the span of history as they address the universal events of birth, life and death.  This shared perspective affects the values, attitudes, and thoughts as well as resultant behavior patterns that are passed on from one generation to another through word and/or deed.  Ultimately, a culture is made up of the values, beliefs, norms, rationalizations, symbols, ideologies, mental/creative products and images of the people – the analysis of these entities within frameworks of good and evil, truth and falsehood, beauty and its opposite – and the organization of the response to these entities within the institutions of society (e.g. the religious organization; economic structures; “cultural” structures).  Most significantly, culture is reinforced/reflected in the language and codes of the group.

Secondary aspects/issues of culture include:  Notions of modesty; conception of beauty; tolerance of physical pain; facial expressions; patterns of handling emotions; arrangement of physical space; body language; patterns of visual perception; ordering of time; conception of past & future; roles in relation to status by age, sex, class, occupation, kinship; definition of obscenity; approaches to problem-solving; patterns of group decision-making; incentives to work; patterns of superior/subordinate relations; rules of descent; relationship to animals; definition of sin; notions of leadership; tempo of work; attitudes toward the dependent; conception of status mobility; eye contact behavior; conversational patterns in various social contexts; definition of insanity; nature of friendship; concepts of humor; conception of `self’; preference for competition or cooperation; social interaction rate; notions of adolescence; patterns of handling emotions; notions about logic & validity; attitudes toward elders; theory of disease; conception of justice; courtship; practices, etc.

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Each Humanities discipline involves studies that evolve over time from the experiences of life, from the theories that are developed to interpret these experiences, and from the values upon which the theories are based. Each of the studies involves a mode of communication that is coded (through the understanding of context and subtext), and that has been developed into a canon of primary and secondary source materials. As noted above, the studies also involve processes and products that can be studied from disciplinary, interdisciplinary, crossdisciplinary or multidisciplinary perspectives. In studying them, both texts and contexts matter!

Course Values

The students of The Arts and Social and Political Protest and Persuasion course constitute a community of people who experience an evolving set of values within the class. Six of the values upon which this course has been built are:

·That MORALITY MATTERS! Life is given true value through the courageous, ambitious, industrious and ethical response of the politically mature individual to The Moral Imperative. This Imperative has many manifestations flowing from the complicated interaction of fidelity, reflection and reform. It is found in the various Manifestos* that have emerged throughout history. It is found in the provocative explanations and expectations voiced by artists, writers, philosophers and other scholars who seek to analyze and influence both personal (individual) and social (group) perceptions of issues and theories. Examples of this can be found in the work of people such as —

Aristophanes, Euripedes, Sophocles, William Shakespear, Diego Velazquez, Henrik Ibsen, Julia Ward Howe, Anthony Davis, Ossie Davis, Maxine Hong Kingston, Nina Simone, Frida Kahlo, Bertolt Brecht, Bill Moyers, August Wilson, Henry David Thoreau, Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Mari Evans, Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Desmund Tutu, Clint Eastwood, Gil Scott-Heron, Marvin Gaye, Odetta, Pablo Picasso, Renee Magritte, George Orwell, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Oscar Micheaux, Spike Lee, Phil Donohue, Charles Burnett, John Lennon, Langston Hughes, Yip Harburg, Jeff Skoll (Participant Productions), Sam Cooke, Ernie Barnes, Miriam Makeba, Wyclef Jean, bell hooks, Howard Zinn, Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, Arthur Miller, Tony Kushner, Andres Serrano, Aaron Sorkin, Susan Jacoby, Robbie Conal, Judith Baca, Maya Lin, Alvin Ailey, Bill T. Jones, Harry Belafonte, Woodie Guthrie, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Sweet Honey In the Rock, India.Arie, The Dixie Chicks, Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, Tupac Shakur, Michael Eric Dyson, Hansonia Caldwell, Mark Mattern, James Brown, Janet Jackson, Tony Kushner, and others —

— all of whom communicate their personal vision, interrogate reality, reinforce argument and challenge comfort with aesthetic and philosophical product, thereby affirming that ultimately, the world is vastly enriched by the way the individual chooses to live life. One controls one’s destiny by one’s choices.   Further, these leaders are connected to shared assertions:

***that life is better than death;

***that health is better than sickness;

***that liberty is better than slavery;

***that prosperity is better than poverty;

***that education is better than ignorance;

***that justice was better than injustice.

PERSPECTIVE:

…. Caring is not enough. Jonathan Kozol

….Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe. Elie Wiesel Acceptance Speech, Nobel Prize for Peace; Oslo, Norway; December 10, 1986.

…. All the heroes of tomorrow are the heretics of today. Yip Harburg

….If you choose to be silent, you have made a choice. Jonathan Turley

….Civil society requires moral consensus. Rev. Deforest Sores

….We can’t float through life. We can’t be incidental or accidental. We must fix our gaze on a guiding star as soon as one comes upon the horizon, and once we have attached ourselves to that star we must keep our eyes on it and our hands on the plow. It is the consistency of the pursuit of the highest possible vision that you can find in front of you that gives you the constancy, that gives you the encouragement, that gives you the way to understand where you are and why it’s important for you to do what you can do. Ossie Davis, interview with Tavis Smiley, NPR, November 2005, published as the Afterword in Life Lit By Some Large Vision.

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·That HISTORY MATTERS! Since life is part of a continuum built upon the balance of the phenomenon of continuity and change, history matters. Life is a road that is constantly under construction, stimulated by an ongoing search for truth and inspired by intellectual curiosity. Indeed, all pasts are constructed, all facts require interpretation, and all history is “revisionist”. Visiting the past helps with the transformation of the present and the future. This imperative concurs with Shakespeare’s assertion that all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts. (As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7, lines 139-142). Each person’s story begins at their birth; but, at the same time, each person is born into the continuum of history. The continuous response to this imperative, in society and in this class, asks these questions: How do we arrive at truth? How do we recognize truth? How do we change the ending of a story whose plot was cast thousands of years ago?

It is surely evident that culture – whether high or low, aristocratic or popular – is a historical phenomenon, not merely in the sense that it comes into being and passes away, but in the more interesting sense that it develops in response to itself, and by reflection on its own past and achievements.  Complexity one:  But this historicity also contains a paradox and leads to transgenerational conflict.  What people value in one period they may find ridiculous in the next; and what today seems dignified and honourable may tomorrow seem senseless and corrupt.  But to the one who has them, values are universal, absolute, and transhistorical.   Complexity two: Note that Diaspora can cause the discontinuity of history.

PERSPECTIVE: The more I have studied the history of our country over the last 70 years, the clearer it has become to me.  By no, I have come to understand the nature of American society and the certainty of many of its own participants that their own position is clear and correct.  I have attempted to reexmine the ideologies that undergird our system.  I have also struggled to understand how it is that we could seek a land of freedom for the people of Europe and, at the very same time, establish a social and economic system that enslaved people who happen not to be from Europe. I have struggled to understand how it is that we could fight for independence and, at the very same time, use that newly won independence to enslave many who had joined in the fight for independence. As a student of history, I have attempted to explain it historically, but that explanation has not been all that satisfactory. That has left me no alternative but to use my knowledge of history, and whatever other knowledge and skills I have, to present the case for change in keeping with the express purpose of attaining the promised goals of equality for all peoples. In this way we can, perhaps, realize the goals that grow out of the tenets which we claim to have been committed from the beginning……….John Hope Franklin – “Response….on the occasion of receiving the John W. Kluge Prize”, December 5, 2006.

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·That THE ARTS MATTER! It is the place where the mind meets the heart. It is a place that responds to the fact that words are limited. Didactic and/or aesthetic expressions are used by an engaged citizenry to articulate dissent and discord with persistence and passion. This body of work becomes THE ARTS OF SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PROTEST AND PERSUASION, facilitated in a manner that addresses a multiplicity of imperatives, as explained in Caldwell, African American Music – Spirituals, pages 103 and 104. The arts capture memories, deliver a message, foster dialogue, comfort the fearful, eulogize the missing, activate unknown strength, and, most importantly, help the human mind grasp the unimaginable. Didactic and aesthetic expressions are subject to individualized interpretation.

PERSPECTIVE:

….For the true function of drama is to remind us that man is dedicated to the pursuit of the good, in spite of himself, and that to pursue the good successfully, he must know the alternatives and choose wisely from among them. Ossie Davis, Life Lit By Some Large Vision, page 5

….When we are original with our voices we become creative and dynamic in character…..because we are reaching deep inside ourselves and finding that authentic voice that matters most and that people can comprehend as the most personal and real voice that we possess. Sultan Aldarei, Humanities student, Spring 2006

….Music at its best is dangerous – pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, The Tavis Smiley Show, April 24, 2007

….Images have been reproached for being a way of watching suffering at a distance, as if there were some other way of watching. But watching up close – without the mediation of an image – is still just watching. Susan Sontag, writer, in Regarding the Pain of Others.

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·That WISDOM MATTERS……and it requires literate, critical and creative thinking and complex communication, thereby creating possibilities for prescient understandings, risk-taking innovations, inspirational transformation and contextualized response that reclaims the compassionate ethos.

This imperative rises to a level of contemporary urgency, acknowledging the fact that we live today in an intellectual era marked by a general increase in factual knowledge, ideas, images, and sounds, tempered by a general decline in understanding and focus. Within this imperative, it is good to recall the axiom — You can explain things to people, but you cannot understand for them. Unfortunately, today we know more but comprehend less about what any of it really means. We face the challenge of studying this array of knowledge with integrity in order to select and/or create the most enduring, compelling, useful and meaningful ideas and examples.

PERSPECTIVE:

….If you scratch a cynic you will find a disappointed idealist. George Carlin

….It’s always better to see a sermon than to hear one. Cornel West

….Words can provide evidence of a blight that has taken root in our mouths and in our souls. Maya Angelou, 2007

PERSPECTIVE

How We Lost Our Memory by Casey Schwartz

March 2, 2011

With the whole world at our fingertips, do we need to remember anything? A new book by Joshua Foer explores the ancient art of memory, but Casey Schwartz questions what we’ve lost along with our memories.

Memory isn’t what it used to be.

That much is clear from reading Joshua Foer’s new book Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. The title comes straight from his own stash of highly memorable images, developed in his quest to become the U.S. memory champion.

One year Foer, a journalist, wandered into the U.S. memory competition, and returned the next as a contender. In between, he trained in the intricate techniques for memorizing anything—a list of words, the order of a deck of cards, faces and names, random sets of numbers, the entire Iliad. These are the kinds of skills required of the “mental athletes” who compete on the memory circuit. If their real-world applications seem elusive, that’s because they mostly are.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything By Joshua Foer 320 pages. The Penguin Press. $26.95. The techniques that Foer describes are as effortful as they are old. They were invented by the ancient Greeks in the fifth century B.C., and they haven’t been significantly altered since. Foer’s training is mostly based on the “method of loci.” It requires you to visualize a location that you know well, say, for instance, your childhood home, and mentally walk through it, distributing each one of the items that you need to remember in a specific place in a room inside your “memory palace.”

You reflect on each item as you place it—the sight of it, the smell of it, the way it looks sitting there where you’ve put it. And later, when you need to retrieve these items, you simply walk through your memory palace, and there they are, right where you left them.

But besides the obvious effort and concentration required to master such methods, when it comes to implementing them in day to day life, one also faces a big picture problem: what’s the point?

After all, isn’t there a fundamental difference between retaining a list of random digits and being able to remember experiences in their native richness, with all the emotions and asides that rippled through? This is one of the many questions Foer raises as he makes his way through the strange terrain of memory land.

Do we engage more casually with our lives, on the theory that any experience can be reduplicated later?

Now, more than ever, the subject of memory has taken on a new urgency. The baby boomers are senior citizens, having senior moments. The rise of neuroscience in the last decade has made us aware of our brains in a way that we weren’t before. And, perhaps most significantly, technology is obviating the need to remember anything.

Welcome to the age of forgetting.

Before the advent of gigabytes, Wikipedia, and Watson, memory was more closely identified with intelligence. The shift is most evident in our schools, where critical thinking has replaced rote learning as the central goal of education. It also shows up in the dimming of quiz show glory. In the 1950s, the contestants who used their turbo charged memories to win money on game shows became revered cultural figures, regarded as geniuses, and even got investigated by Congress.

Now, however, a successful appearance on Jeopardy is unlikely to yield anything more than a few thousand dollars. Today, savant-like information recall seems more like a parlor trick than a mark of real intelligence: cool, but not enviable. What’s the point of honing our internal stash of facts when all the facts are at our fingertips?

Maybe our downgraded respect for remembering reflects, in part, our discomfort at the thought that our machines have caught up with—even surpassed—us. We devalue the significance of memory in order to cope with the fact that our gadgets are now better at it than we are.

Foer’s book points to another moment in history when technology changed the role of memory. “If you were a medieval scholar reading a book, you knew that there was a reasonable likelihood you’d never see that particular text again, and so a high premium was placed on remembering what you read,” Foer writes. “You couldn’t just pull a book off the shelf to consult it for a quote or an idea. ”

The invention of the Gutenberg press meant that books were no longer such a rarity that you had to imprint their contents onto your memory whenever you ran across them. Once they became retrievable, books changed the way people read. Now, information is even more easily tracked; all events easily documented; all opinions available. Knowing this, do we know things differently? Do we engage more casually with our lives, on the theory that any experience can be reduplicated later?

We think:

The conversation can wait.

Didn’t go? Don’t worry, it’ll wind up on YouTube.

After all, if it’s not online, it didn’t occur.

One of the more intriguing ideas in Foer’s book: to know something, really, in the first place, is to memorize it.

“Memory training was considered a form of character building, a way of developing the cardinal virtue of prudence and, by extension, ethics,” he writes. “Only through memorizing, the thinking went, could ideas truly be incorporated into one’s psyche and their values absorbed.”

And here comes the shadow of doubt. The thousands of books we read in our life times—where do they go? The revelatory hours in the grasp of a writer who amazes. But what did he say? We might take comfort in the idea that even if we can’t remember everything—or sometimes anything—about them, still, these books shaped our sensibility, and therefore, they stay with us.

Casey Schwartz is a graduate of Brown University and has a Masters Degree in psychodynamic neuroscience from University College London. She has previously written for The New York Sun and ABC News. Currently, she’s working on a book about the brain world.

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·That DIALOGUE MATTERS! The politically mature individual embraces dialogue. Additionally, the politically mature individual recognizes, accepts and nurtures the value of freedom of expression, particularly when it is accompanied by compelling and documentable evidence and analysis and persuasive, consciousness-raising aesthetics that are shaped to respond to the needs of the multiple intelligences of humanity while acknowledging the predominant presence of the “visual” in contemporary society. All people are welcome in the public square.

PERSPECTIVE:

…..In this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated.  Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake.  Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey.  Stand as a lighthouse.  But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it neceswsarily admits doubt.  It is the belief in things not seen.   It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

This doubt should not push us away from our faith.  But it should humble us.  It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness.  It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame.  And within our vast democracy,  this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds.

Barack Obama, Commencement Speech to Notre Dame, May 17, 2009

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·That PACKAGING MATTERS! The packaging and delivery of data and values has an impact upon its reception.

PERSPECTIVE: The greatness of works of art lies solely in their power to let those things be heard which ideology conceals. Theodor Adorno, aesthetician

This imperative suggests that communication by artists and spokespersons happens on many levels. It is important for the critical citizen to be able to recognize the connections between and among popular culture, mass media, politics and history. One must be able to acknowledge that ideas can be merchandised, shaped into shallow sound bites, distorted, and exploited, and to understand that it is possible to be persuaded by a charisma that either affirms or deceives.

PERSPECTIVE: It was in the mid 1990s that the American electronic news media jumped the shark. That’s when CNN was joined by even more boisterous rival 24/7 cable networks, when the Internet became a mass medium, and when television news operations, by far the main source of news for Americans, were gobbled up by entertainment giants …. In this new mediathon environment, drama counted more than judicious journalism …. Once definable distinctions between truth and fiction were blurred more than ever before, as `reality’ was redefined in news and prime-time entertainment alike. Frank Rich, columnist, New York Times

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Today, can you recognize a con? FACTS MATTER……but facts do not always determine the credibility of an argument!

The theoretical and aesthetic interpretation, application and organization of various theories and values (such as those stated above) by human beings leads to distinct intellectual and emotional differences, alternative views of reality, and competing visions of self, of community, of truth, justice, and the nature and meaning of the good life and the good society — views that sometimes evolve into dissent and discord. This voice of difference is articulated and explained in the writings and arts of people such as those listed above, as well as, for this class, in the presentations of individual members of the class. VOICES MATTER!

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hlc:5/17/09

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