Monday, January 18, 2010

A gleeful arts education?

After watching a rather forgettable Golden Globes presentation last night, I find myself stuck on a phrase mentioned by on of the producers of the program "Glee" (Best television series – comedy or musical - which I found a laughable decision I might add). While I can't remember the exact phrase, or the name of the fellow who said it, he in effect stated that he was thankful to be connected to a show that stressed "the importance of an arts education".

And that is what caused me to lift my gaze from my keyboard with an accompanying eyebrow raise and slight twist of the chin last night and what has sent me atop my digital soap box this Monday morning. . .

It's not that I have a problem with the importance of an arts education - not by any means. As a visual artist, I have always been keenly aware of that issue. I have also worked as an arts educator in the public school system and have very close friends who do the same - some of whom have won national recognition for such.

So - let me be the first to tell you in case you were unaware - "Glee" is about as close in its portrayal of "real life" high school as "Hogan's Heros" was to its portrayal of a German WWII prisoner of war camp.

(with thanks to slade1955)

Glee offers its interpretation of a present day high school via a collection of 20 something year old actors playing a group of 15 to 17 year olds who seem to spend the majority of their school day either practicing for the Glee Club, or in football practice, or cheerleading practice. During these practice sessions, they have the ability to sound vry similar to top-notch studio recording session artists or pop start sensations. When they actually perform, which is frequently, they reproduce the same sound - though even more polished - as well as a mix of wildly expensive costumes with stage production set pieces and lighting.

(above - actor Mark Salling - 27 in reality - portrays 17 year old Puck on Glee)

The entire cast - even the ones who are not supposed to be attractive - are extremely attractive. Though they do seem to have a nice mix of culturally and sexually diverse students (one student - Artie - who is portrayed as being wheelchair bound - is played by the non-disabled in reality, 21 year old Kevin McHale).

But before I am labeled a cynic by readers, I do understand that this is about "acting" and entertainment. I've been involved with theatre (both professionally and with community groups) for over 25 years.

My question is this - if producers of television programs can feel grateful for working on fantasy/artificial shows about promoting the arts in high school when accepting a Golden Globe award for doing such - wouldn't they feel even better if they helped to produce a "reality show" that actually documents the uphill battle that arts educators in this country have to face each time they step into a classroom?

Why not feature teachers struggling with and frustrated by dwindling school arts budgets and antiquated equipment rather than "make believe" glee clubs where Broadway style sets, costumes, and backup musicians appear at the snap of a jazz hand gloved finger?

Also, why are the Visual Arts never made a focus of this popular entertainment? How about a dark comedy entitled "High School Art Honor Society" where young adults portraying minors whip out deftly painted masterpieces in in between make out sessions, eye makeup applications and and texting spasms?

I have to wonder if shows like Glee club may actually be doing damage to legitimate school arts based groups when potentially eager students show up at auditions with visions of sugarplums and recording contracts dancing through their heads. The sad reality of arts education in today's public school system is that it is still woefully underfunded and wildly under appreciated.

I don't think I have ever had a conversation with a public school based arts educator who has not had to purchase supplies for their class out of their own pockets. Recently, during a conversation at the school where I was teaching which had just been built at a cost of several million dollars with the visual arts instructor, I had mentioned how surprised I was too see how small and under-equpied that arts room was considering how grandiose other aspects of this shiny new building were.

With a knowing look and a weary eye, she quietly informed me that it was still a matter of funding and positioning on the totem pole of importance. I could do little at that point but shake my head as I looked around this small and under equipped space with the realization that it was hardly any different than the art class room that I studied in when I was in High School.

I graduated 27 years ago. . .

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