When I look for arguments to debate this question, I always find a list of points that adamantly support the benefits. But, if the benefits of the performing arts are so obvious, why is there such a need to make the argument? Should we equate the performing arts with taking vitamins, going to the gym, reading a book, eating a healthy diet, going to the dentist? Hmmm…
Let’s start with the claim of self-discovery. I would argue that most people go through life never knowing who they really are, and are afraid of finding out. And if you are ready to be honest, I’m sure you will admit that this is true for many of your friends and loved ones. Their lack of self-discovery hasn’t prevented you from interacting with them. Has it?
Then, there’s the claim that the performing arts teach expression. Well, there are countless shy and insecure people who will never express their thoughts and ideas. So what? Again, be honest. Do you really want to know?
And there’s the claim that the performing arts teach people about life in ways more impactful than the traditional study of academics. Even if this is true, so what? These things can still be learned in a classroom. After all, classrooms are where most people learn history, politics, social science, etc. Right?
Here’s another one – creativity. Question: Can creativity be taught? By this, I mean the ability to use the things around us that already exist to “create” something new. Some would argue creativity is a genius you either have or you don’t. Also, can we attribute that new computer game, or cell phone app to time spent in the performing arts. And I wonder how many on the verge of finding the cure to diabetes, AIDS, or cancer actually go to the theatre?
Other claims include bringing us together as a community, teaching us identity, and providing instruments for political change. Surely all of this and more can be accomplished via a good movie, or a reality television show, or even by frequenting your favorite bar. It generally costs less, and the popcorn and drinks can’t be beat.
All right, I’m sure my sarcasm has begun to bore you, if not offend you. But, I honestly question the value of trying to convince the masses of what is good for them. At the turn of the last century, the great W.E.B. DuBois posed his theory of “The Talented Tenth,” where he claimed that 10% of the enlightened descendants of slaves would go on to lead black Americans to a new position in American society. Perhaps this theory holds true here. Perhaps it will be the enlightened 10% of the population at large that will have the opportunity – and the wherewithal – to experience, appreciate, and benefit from the performing arts. As for the remaining 90%, …
“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”Bansky