Sunday, February 2, 2014

Art for All

There are Other Things to talk about in our current world, but this was The Thing that kept coming back, and then the wise and wonderful Alexa Sand posted the Kennedy quote below and I looked up the entire speech and this is the letter that emerged right away. When you send a comment to the White House, you're asked to choose a subject. I chose "Civil Rights." 

Dear Mr. President,                                                                             Sunday, February 2, 2014

            Suggesting that art and its history are not for workers in manufacturing, as your comments in Wisconsin on Thursday did, is a betrayal of democracy. Presented as folksy populism, your comments in deed safeguarded the gross elitism that seeks to reserve art only for the very wealthy. It wasn’t always that way, Mr. President, and it shouldn’t be that way. When my students and I spoke of your comments in class, we were studying cave paintings, art made 30,000 years ago; we were studying images that strongly argue that art is fundamental to the human experience, and that it shouldn’t be denied by socio-economic class or political gain.  I would remind you of the words of your illustrious predecessor, John F. Kennedy, spoken at Amherst College in 1963, to honor the poet Robert Frost:

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.

I’ve added the emphasis, although I imagine that Kennedy spoke those particular words with fervor.  Please do not make the class divide that America’s democracy already suffers from worse, Mr. President.  Please recall that just because something that should be a priority for all human beings has been hijacked by the very wealthy does not mean that it should no longer be accessible to the rest of America. On this point, art joins good health, economic opportunity, and freedom from fear and want. Please revisit one of the most important goals of art history and democracy: to present the achievements and power of human creativity and make them accessible to more and more people all the time. I very much hope that you might have the chance to see the upcoming film Monuments Men and renew your admiration for the men and woman who risked their lives in WWII to protect and rescue works of art threatened and stolen by the Nazis in a time when art was held in sacred trust by nations and important enough for people across all economic levels that it was fought for at the highest levels of democracy.

            Anne F. Harris
            Professor of Art History

            DePauw University


  1. Just beautiful! I love the idea that art is (or should be) a civil right. Thank you for putting this into words, Anne.

  2. I think everyone can appreciate art. Personally I love beautiful landscapes and nature scenes but am not a fan of alot of art. What is the main difference between Medieval and Renaissance art in your opinion? I am considering writing a post on this for by medieval history blog at but haven't had the time yet and would love to hear your opinion. Cheers.