Yesterday, I went to see the movie Les Miserables. (The theater was full–evidently, going to the movies on Christmas isn’t just a Jewish tradition.)
Les Miz is one of our favorites, and my husband and I were prepared to be critical of the movie version. While we had some quibbles, it was very good; the production made use of the medium to do things that can’t be done on a live stage. As we compared the constraints of the two art forms, stage and film, it was hard not to compare the state of the arts with the state of the state, the state of government–especially since the storyline focused on the French revolution and its aftermath. (Talk about your 99%…..)
There’s certainly a lot of trash being peddled as art these days, but it would be hard to argue that the arts are not vibrant, or that the arts community is not robust. Even here in Indianapolis, hardly a mecca for high art, we have a robust and growing arts culture. Theater, visual arts, dance, literature….the explosion of galleries, theaters and other arts venues over the past 25 years or so has been dramatic. And Indy’s experience has been mirrored in cities around the country. Indeed, the arts are no longer simply a human pleasure; they have become an important economic driver (more important economically, I’m told, than sports).
Both the production and the enjoyment of the arts requires imagination and an appreciation of the complexity of human nature and experience. And audiences for the arts have grown exponentially. Which leads me to a question: why have we not seen a similar growth in the maturity and depth of those practicing that ancient art we call statecraft? We see those folks in business and in our burgeoning nonprofit sector–why are there so few in the public sector?
Why do we continue to elect cardboard cutouts who seem able only to approach the art of governing with trite, one-dimensional slogans rather than thoughtful analyses and innovative proposals?
What have we done to turn talented people away from politics and civic engagement? And what can we do to lure them back to the practice of the ancient and important art of government?