Thursday, December 6, 2007

The right and the arts

William F. Buckley Jr. endorses music education in Gramophone, the British classical-music magazine. GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee says the arts should figure more prominently in school curricula. Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, one of the state’s leading conservative Republicans, links his son’s academic success to playing trombone in the Hanover High School Band and Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Their ideological kindred spirits spent the 1980s and ’90s attacking the National Endowment for the Arts, belittling the fine arts as "elitist" and promoting a back-to-basics curriculum that marginalized or eliminated arts instruction in public schools.

The points that arts education might push back against an increasingly coarse and brain-dead popular culture, and that the discipline of learning to play an instrument, or paint a picture, or write a poem, pays off academically – tangibly, too, in an information economy propelled by creative thinking – were brushed off or ignored.

Do the comments of Buckley, Huckabee and Bolling represent a shift in conservatives’ view of the educational and social value of the arts? Do three celebrants make a party, or just some jaw music in the foyer?