The Candidates on the Arts

May 20, 2008

Checking the official websites of the candidates to see what their positions were on the Arts, I found that:

John McCain has no stated positions relating to the arts.

Hillary Clinton says she is a strong supporter of the arts and our nation’s cultural and historic sites and appreciates the role that arts and humanities play in American communities. She would increase funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, support the arts as part of the core curriculum in schools, encourage international cultural exchange, and support the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. She recognizes the economic value of the arts, and would promote economic development grants to create affordable live/work spaces for artists.

Barack Obama believes in the arts as a means of nourishing creative skills. Like Hillary, he supports increased funding of the National Endowment for the Arts and would promote cultural diplomacy and attract foreign artists to the U.S. He would support arts education in the schools and create an “Artists Corps” of young artists to work in low-income schools and community schools to improve test scores. He supports the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, which would allows artists to deduct the fair market value of their work when they make charitable deductions. And he recognizes that artists, as generally self-employed people, would benefit from a national health insurance plan.

Though I do like the idea of an Artist Corps, this could probably be done through existing programs, like Americorps.

I am not keen on the “arts makes you smarter” or “Mozart Effect” argument that “music increases math scores” in favor of arts in the schools. For one thing, it devalues the arts, and for another, it is not true. The Mozart Effect (here’s an interesting student paper on the Mozart Effect) was based on one 1993 study involving having college students listen to 10 minutes of either Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K. 448), a relaxation tape, or silence, before they took a test on spatial reasoning (as an indicator of intelligence). The students who had listened to Mozart scored significantly higher on the intelligence test. There was a huge popular response to the study, and many CDs of classical music provided for babies as a result, even though attempts to reproduce the test results largely failed. (I wonder if anyone did a study on the effects of the dispersal of all those classical music CDs by states such as Georgia and Tennessee.)

I am all in favor of arts and music in the schools (and also in favor of Obama), but let’s not tie the value of the arts to test scores in other subjects. It should be sufficient to argue that arts enrich the lives of those who participate in them, as spectators or as participants, as amateurs, professionals, or dabblers in the arts, and as children or adults. There is such joy, challenge, satisfaction, and inspiration in creativity, whether it be making music or ceramic pottery.

And test scores are not even always a reliable measure of learning, but that is a whole other topic.

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