(1922–2007) was one of the truly great American writers of our time. In 2006, when Vonnegut was 84, a few students at Xavier High School in New York sent letters to the the legendary author asking him to visit their class. The fact that Vonnegut actually replied shows what a thoughtful and kind man he was. Vonnegut politely declined the invitation with humor and with grace: "I don't make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana," wrote Vonnegut. However, his letter offered beautiful wisdom and advice for these young students. You can see the entire letter on the Letters of Note website.
Below is the bit that spoke to me (emphasis is Vonnegut's):
"Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow."
You'll never get a job doing that!
— Kurt Vonnegut
Around the world, mass school systems still do not understand the role of art in developing a child's mind. Yes, they sometimes pay lip service to the importance of art education, and then art is the first thing to go when money is tight. Participating in the arts—learning to play an instrument or to express yourself through painting, writing, acting, etc.—are valuable not because they allow you to tick a box on a job application ten years in the future, the arts are valuable in and of themselves. What is a life without art in it? What is a school worth without a deep commitment to the whole mind (and body) of the student, which includes art. "You'll never get a job doing that" is something I actually heard in high school when I spent so much energy on music. Later I heard the same thing from business or engineering students when I was getting a degree in Philosophy from OSU. Looking back, I do not regret spending so much energy on music, my only regret is that I did not spend *more* energy exploring other disciplines in the arts. I think I would be a much better public speaker today, for example, if I would have studied drama and put myself up on a stage acting in front of a large audience, one of the scariest things one can do.
"You were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that. Is that right? Don't do music, you're not going to be a musician; don't do art, you won't be an artist. Benign advice—now, profoundly mistaken."
— Sir Ken Robinson
The role of art & music in education
The advice from Kurt Vonnegut ties in nicely with a piece that came out a couple of years ago by Quincy Jones called Arts Education in America. Quincy asks "...can we really run the risk of becoming a culturally bankrupt nation
because we have not inserted a curriculum into our educational
institutions that will teach and nurture creativity in our children?" The most interesting part of Quincy's article were the words taken from the 1943 War Department Education Manual EM 603 that got its recommendations on jazz completely wrong. (Read it
— you'll be amazed.) Kind of makes you wonder what else — in spite of
good intentions — our educational institutions and leaders are getting
completely wrong today? If our recommendations are based on the
assumptions that science is not a place for creative thinking or that
the arts/humanities have no room for analysis and logic or that students
need to make a choice about what kind of person they
are — logical or intuitive — then something tells me we're getting it
wrong. We need both science and the arts...and we need to do better
has been proven time and time again in countless studies that students
who actively participate in arts education are twice as likely to read
for pleasure, have strengthened problem-solving and critical thinking
skills, are four times more likely to be recognized for academic
achievement, four times more likely to participate in a math and science
— Quincy Jones
Above: Slide with famous Picasso quote featuring a photo of my son banging on the drums before he was old enough to walk.
• Bill Strickland makes change with a slide show
• Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity
H/T Letters of Note website.