Not so much unlike someone else
whose "inner censor has been working overtime", I'm going to turn something loose on yawl that might be somewhat embarrassing to moi
(but hey, it's content, so gather round, buckaroos!) -- it's a letter I wrote [and perhaps unfortunately, got published] sometime around early 2001 to a magazine in response to a question they put to their readership on the subject of the "nearly universal perception of the arts as unimportant" (this wuz, IIRC, not very long after all the public and political brouhahas over Andres Serrano's Piss Christ
and Chris Ofili’s [elephant-dung-enhanced] The Holy Virgin Mary
, amongst others) -- anyhoo, enjoy [and please be gentle with me in the comments, or I shall run and hide in the tall grasses until the moon turns purple and the trees dance the Bunny Hop...]:
As a musician and composer, my thoughts on the antagonistic relationship between the arts and society are perhaps colored by my perception of the arts as a predominantly shamanistic endeavor. As such, various evolving value-shifts, such as the increasing secularization of American society (particularly as it relates to the ever-overreactive 'separation of church and state' arguments), the increasingly high media profile of science and similar left-brain activities being raised to the level of our new 'opiate of the masses', and the stereotypical bottom-line, business-school mentality of 'productivity über alles', among others, can each be seen as distancing society from valuing and respecting the more Dionysian, right-brain arena of the artist, whose function (not unlike the shaman's) is not so much concerned with the material world, but with those worlds that could be/should be/never were/might have been. In connecting society to those other worlds, artists can set reality in a different light, a light that can illuminate new solutions, new paradigms, and the surprising beauty that exists amid the otherwise numbing grayness of a practical existence. This is the proper function of the arts and the artist, and ought to be valued as such.
As for whether anything can or should be done to change society's current hostility, in the long term, I imagine the present decline in the respect for the arts will turn out to be the inevitable back swing of a long historical pendulum, as most societal trends are. In the short term, however, I'm not overly hopeful about the immediate future of the National Endowment for the Arts (but then, I'm not hopeful about Social Security, either).
[...and there's double-bonus points fer anyone who can help me figger out which parts are plagiarized (of course, of course)