Part V: Recording and Sharing Our Histories
20. “Art and Consciousness from Blombos Cave to Black Lives Matter” by Mariët Westermann
The arts capture time and connect people. Westermann argues that the arts are essential "...in the sense of indispensable to human and social life, and not replaceable by ... some other form of human expression..." In part 1 of the essay, she offers examples of the ways the arts have caught and communicated human behaviors from Neanderthal times to today. Throughout the centuries, objects and pictures have shown human activity, needs and wants, and the reach from one life to another. While over time this work has grown in complexity, in meaning, in materials, it always conveys information and reveals the human incentive to know. Part 2 of the essay emphasizes the importance of art by focusing on reactions to it over time, especially the constancy of "destruction." Art is challenged, attacked, destroyed, for the messages it carries, for the threats it poses to one human faction or another. Ironically, though the intent is to hide messages, efforts at destruction actually heighten them. In part 3 of the essay, Westerman argues that the survival and development of the arts over time is owed to its effectiveness in reconciling people, in connecting them, in building values and beliefs, trust and aspirations. In the fourth and final section of the essay, Westermann argues that today and especially since the Renaissance, art is perceived "as a sphere... that can support the self-realization of the individual" and also provide "...the foundations for an empathy that helps us live together..." Art tells us "...things that could not be uttered any other way."
Mariët Westermann is Vice Chancellor and chief executive of New York University Abu Dhabi. Previously, she had served as the first Provost of NYU Abu Dhabi, charged with directing the development of the new campus and overseeing the design of the academic program and recruitment of the faculty. Before returning to NYU Abu Dhabi, she was Executive Vice President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, overseeing its grant-making and research programs. Earlier in her career, she was Director and Paulette Goddard Professor at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts and held positions at the Clark Art Institute and Rutgers University. She serves on the boards of ALIPH—The International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas and the Educational Testing Service and chairs the Selection Committee of the Scholar Rescue Fund. Her current research explores the Garden of Eden in the imagination of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Website: https://nyuad.nyu.edu/en/about/leadership-and-administration/office-of-the-vice-chancellor.html
21. “Art Saved Us . . . from What?” by Karen L. Ishizuka
In World War 2, a diversity of art works were created by detainees in the concentration camps the U.S. government built to hold Japanese-American citizens. Behind barbed wire, in remote locations, from 1941 to 1946, these detainees lived in fear and also in fortitude. They described and dealt with their ordeals in the art they made, sometimes surreptitiously. One visual artist, for instance, produced a graphic autobiography - detailed, defiant and funny. A distinguished artist and professor started art classes, inspiring students from six to seventy. And a haiku poet produced poems, prayerful and apprehensive. These artists and many more captured – and conquered - feelings of confinement. Even today, art about the camps and attention to them persists, as many Japanese Americans memorialize those ordeals and work to prevent any new versions of it. Art helped save them from despair and even from death; their art is their archive today.
Karen L. Ishizuka is the Chief Curator of the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), in which role she shapes the museum’s curatorial direction and agenda. Over her career at JANM, she has been a media producer and curator, as well as Director of the Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center. She curated the influential America’s Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese American Experience; established the museum’s Photographic and Moving Image Archive; and wrote and produced Toyo Miyatake: Infinite Shades of Gray, which was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival. She received an MA in social work from San Diego State University and a PhD in anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. In addition to numerous articles, she is author of the books Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties and Lost & Found: Reclaiming the Japanese American Incarceration and co-editor of Mining the Home Movie: Excavations into Histories and Memories. In addition to her work at JANM, she serves as President of the Okura Mental Health Leadership Foundation. Website: https://www.janm.org
22. “Darkness and Light: the powers of performing” by Richard Sennett
Art reflects and affects actualities in society. Sennett looks at the ways performance educates and influences us in works of art, and – also - in the actualities of history. Sometimes, they exist in both art and actuality at once, as Hamlet teaches us. Offering us a play (within a play) which - in its artfulness - unveils true acts of betrayal and murder, Hamlet uses art to give life to suspicions. Art reveals reality. Sennett also shows how the evolution of jazz “performed” the realities of black communities in the U.S. experience. Sennett’s sinister counter-example explores the use of performance in Nazi Germany to generate suspicion, fear, hostility, in order to undergird a regime of control and cruelty. In political speech and parade, in films and pictures, in emblematic uses of music, arts were used to generate hostility, betrayal and murder. Sennett offers searing evidence of the ways that performance – inherent in the arts - serve to meet and mirror the real needs and the positive goals of society, and the ways they can manipulate and distort them.
Richard Sennett currently serves as a member of the United Nations Committee on Urban Initiatives. He is Honorary Professor at the Bartlett School, University College London, and Visiting Professor of Urban Studies at MIT. He chairs the trustees of Theatrum Mundi, an organization that brings together young artists and urbanists. Previously, he founded the New York Institute for the Humanities, served as President of the American Council on Work, and taught at New York University and at the London School of Economics. Over the course of the past five decades, he has written about social life in cities, changes in labor, and social theory. His books include The Hidden Injuries of Class, The Fall of Public Man, The Corrosion of Character, The Culture of the New Capitalism, The Craftsman, and Building and Dwelling. Among other awards, he has received the Hegel Prize, the Spinoza Prize, an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University, and the Centennial Medal from Harvard University. Sennett grew up in the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago. He attended the Juilliard School in New York, where he worked with Claus Adam, cellist of the Juilliard Quartet. He then studied social relations at Harvard, working with David Riesman, and independently with Hannah Arendt. Website: https://www.richardsennett.com
23. “Art Invites the World In” by Carol Becker
In our higher education institutions, and in our institutional lives more broadly, and even in the ways we identify ourselves and each other in society, the arts have an unclear and uncertain role. All too often, consistently and without challenge, artists are perceived as mere makers, artisans or practitioners, decorators of our lives. They are, all too often, perceived as secondary, ancillary, to scholars, theorists, critics, thinkers. But in fact, artists produce knowledge; they produce research; they produce evidence. They deal with issues, ideas, solutions; they question definitions and boundaries and inspire action in doing so. Becker offers examples of how the true contributions of the arts can be made more clear, more understandable, in the academy and – by example and extension - in the larger society.
Carol Becker is Professor of Arts and Dean of Faculty at the Columbia University School of the Arts. She was previously Dean of Faculty and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs as well as Professor of Liberal Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She earned her BA in English literature from the State University of New York, Buffalo, and her PhD in English and American literature from the University of California, San Diego. She is a member of the World Arts Forum Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum. With research interests that range from feminist theory, American cultural history, the education of artists, and art and social responsibility to South African art and politics, she has published numerous articles and books on cultural criticism, including The Invisible Drama: Women and the Anxiety of Change (translated into seven languages), The Subversive Imagination: Artists, Society and Social Responsibility, Surpassing the Spectacle: Global Transformations and the Changing Politics of Art, and Thinking in Place: Art, Action, and Cultural Production. Website: https://caroldbecker.com/about
24. “On the Value of the Arts and Culture in a Global Community” by Jeffrey Brown
The arts illuminate the news. Brown documents his discovery - as an experienced PBS reporter - of the ways the arts relate to the news. Sometimes they are the news. He discusses “the voices, the stories … the fulfilling substantial necessity of the arts” in the news. He shows, among other examples, how homelessness becomes more real when the story is about a ”street choir” of homeless singers in Dallas reaching out to the public. We know more about “cross-border issues” if we know what is being portrayed by Mexicans in their films, in visual art, in their theatres. Brown shows how artists, like CEO’s, or military leaders, or politicians, can be sources and commentators, giving dimension and illustration to news stories, helping us to comprehend, and to care - especially to care.
Jeffrey Brown is Senior Correspondent and Chief Arts Correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, public television’s national nightly newscast. He has served as the program’s coanchor, studio moderator, and field reporter on a wide range of national and international subjects and has profiled many of the world’s leading writers, musicians, and artists of all kinds. His reporting has garnered Peabody, Emmy, and other awards and honors. His book of poems, titled The News, was published in 2015. Website: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/author/jeffrey-brown
25. “The Arts and Global Relations” by Jay Wang
We live in a complex, unsettled, international era. The known and honed relationships of nations with each other are changing in this era of globalization, which is reframing “trade, people and ideas” and, in that process, changing the powers and the systems that shaped the world of the twentieth century. Commerce, information, transportation, trade, health, are increasingly globalized in practice. A widening array of institutions and nations are claiming international roles, roles that they could not have claimed just decades ago. National and international boundaries of activity, and responsibility, are no longer easy to separate. The rapidity of change is a mounting factor that also disturbs processes and practice. Perhaps most challenging, most puzzling to manage, is the fact, as Wang writes, that “Globalization works two ways at once – it pulls people together, and it drives them apart.” Both “centripetal and centrifugal forces” are in play, at one and the same time. In this turmoil of change, individuals and communities risk losing important capacities - attaining a sense of self, connecting the present to the past, finding authenticity, validating identity. Scholars say It is a time of “cultural insecurity” and “cultural unrest,” a time when emotions can overrule information and knowledge. In this area of concern, it is argued – and urged – that art may be a moderating force, that the arts can help us address the strange polarities of present time. The arts could strengthen cross-cultural conversations, stimulate empathy, express the “underlying humanity” across these divides that we do share, and should acknowledge. Wang indicates that this may be the mandate for the arts and artists in our time.
Jay Wang is Director of the Center on Public Diplomacy and Associate Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California. A scholar and consultant in the fields of strategic communication and public diplomacy, he has published widely on the role of communication in the contemporary process of globalization. His books include Debating Public Diplomacy: Now and Next (as co-editor), Shaping China’s Global Imagination: Nation Branding at the World Expo, Soft Power in China: Public Diplomacy through Communication (as editor), and China’s Window on the World: TV News, Social Knowledge and International Spectacles (as co-author). He serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Communication. He has previously taught at Purdue University and worked for the international consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Website: https://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/users/jay_wang