The Arts: Civilization in Perpetuity

When one studies the history of mankind throughout the ages, it is not the governments that are cited as the enduring feature of civilization.  It is the culture that is passed down through the centuries.  Governments come and go, but the arts remain as the measure of a society.  Music, visual arts, culinary ingenuity and all the other creative, interpretive undertakings truly define human development in a lasting and permanent manner.  The arts are the soul of humankind.

The United States is currently in dire economic straits, faced with not only a deficit accumulated over the last ten years, but also up against the wall for future fiscal expenditures.  The arts (and education) typically are the first area in the national, statewide and local budgets that have their funds slashed.  Know that we all must sacrifice to bring our fiscal situation back to a healthy status.  Sacrifice means that we all have to give up items that are important to us, not just be willing to forfeit those benefits and programs that are not important to us.  That is what sacrifice means, i.e. to give up that which is meaningful to us.  On an institutional level, severe cuts will have to  be made.  However, individuals can somewhat counteract those cuts by providing their own support to the various arts.  Do not underestimate the effects your generosity and involvement can have.

One other important part of supporting the arts that needs to be mentioned is that many people, especially young adults who make their creative instincts their careers, are not compensated very well by their chosen paths.  They are however, driven by a deeper need to express themselves.  I so admire their talent and dedication.  I will feature two young artists who are the epitome of a generation devoted to fulfilling their innovative drive.  Their creative juices serve to foster not only their own talents, but in the greater scope of things, benefit humankind.  This is the beauty of culture and how it spans all epochs.  This is how human history gets told.  This is a validation of the human spirit and why it endures.

Matt Bockelman is a film maker in New York City.  To read about his educational credentials and career accomplishments, click here.   In Mat’s own words, here is a brief summary of his work:

In a nutshell, I work mostly as a freelance cinematographer and editor.  I shoot documentary, commercial and corporate video.  I filmed a whole promotional campaign for ESPN that was a series of quirky documentary-style commercials featuring professional bowlers.  I also did a web-based documentary series for Madison Square Garden called “Meet the Gardeners” that  profiled MSG employees with odd jobs and unique perspectives on their work.  Last winter I spent 3 weeks in Mumbai editing a film that I had shot in 2009 in Gujarat, India.  It’s called “One Sun: The Peacekeepers of Ram Rahim Nagar” and it tells the story of a community of slum dwellers who have created a peaceful community while living in a notoriously communally violent area of the state.  After that project I shot a film for a non-profit called Rehabilitation Through the Arts, about a prison band at Sing Sing Prison and the rehabilitative power of art and music.

It is, however, his current project that I want to tell you about.  It is a film, a documentary, on the Bronx Defenders, titled “You Have The Right To An Attorney”.  Once again, Matt offers a good summary of this project:

My  current project came about as the result of a grant from an organization called Cinereach.  I was awarded, along with 3 other filmmakers, the Cinereach Film Fellowship.  The fellowship comes with a grant and a film mentor to help guide me through making the film.  My mentor is Marshall Curry, who was nominated for an academy award for his film “Streetfight” about Cory Booker’s first mayoral run in Newark, NJ.  ”You Have The Right To An Attorney” focuses on the work of public defenders in the South Bronx, where high poverty and crime rates keep the public defenders busy around the clock.  The story unfolds through the eyes of the attorneys as they shed light on a system that seems built to exploit the poorest and most helpless in the society.  We watch as the attorneys try to work within a broken system to fight for their clients, and we observe the toll of that fight as it affects both client and attorney.

Not only is Matt using his creative talents, but he is using those gifts and abilities to focus on a worthwhile organization.  Truly a double whammy of wonderful.  Should you wish to contribute to this project (despite the grant, additional funds are needed to complete the project), please go with all of your hearts and minds and dollars to  This link will also contain a teaser for the documentary.  Public, institutional funding of the arts is imperative for their existence; private contributions will ensure that the arts matter as a pillar for our civilization.

The second artistic endeavor that I want to bring to your attention is a music ensemble called “Spoonshine” (main website).   Spoonshine’s founding members, Jacob Navarro and William Cook, are based in Anacortes, Washington and have been playing together in various bands since 1996.  Spoonshine was officially started in 2000.  Jake and Will are the songwriters of the band, and the other members have rotated some over the years.  Currently, James Moffitt is on guitar and backup vocals, and Matt Hermsted is on drums.

Spoonshine has a wide and loyal following in the Northwest.  However, they are not yet at the level of earnings that they can give up their day jobs.   Nevertheless they persevere, because, as Will once told me, even if he wanted to forsake his music for a more lucrative career, he could not do that.  His music is in his blood, an integral part of who he is.  Without his music he could not survive.  Once again, this is an example of not only individual talent coming to fruition, but also of the process of culture being promulgated and fixed in our history.

Will is the band member whom I know well.  I once met Matt and was completely taken by the firecracker that he is: a ball of pure energy, a dynamo, and I look forward to the day I can attend one of his drumming performances.  But back to Will: he is one of the  gentlest people I have ever met, yet if you listen to him sing, he is quite powerful.  His voice becomes a gravelly, strong instrument, and it mesmerizes you.  Will describes Spoonshine’s music as “mixture of American folk, rock, maybe a bit of country,  with a Seattle twist.  The president of Columbia records labeled us as ‘Nirvana Americana’ “.  Their music is American to its core, embodying an eclectic quality so typical of our country.   Likewise, their songs have real down-home yet universal themes, both in their lyrics and musical compositions.  Just their instrumental talent alone is phenomenal.  Some of Spoonshine’s songs can be of a melancholy, gentle subject matter all the while being performed  in a potent, forceful   manner.  The dichotomy of subject matter and delivery is incredible and results in a dissonance that will take your breath away.

These young musicians answer to their calling every day.  Perhaps we can contribute to Spoonshine’s viability.  Please support their efforts by attending their shows and buying their CD’s at  They have a good number of previous albums available for sale.  Additionally,  they have more than an album’s worth of songs recorded over the last couple years with Adam Kasper, longtime producer of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Nirvana, among others. You can hear some of these songs and see videos at their main website.  Spoonshine hopes to release a new, full album in 2011.  Check their website frequently for new developments.  They are on the cusp and a group to watch.

I know that my life would be empty and unfulfilling without the arts.  My happiness and well-being is defined by exposure to wonderful visual creations, color and music.  I thank Matt Bockelman and Spoonshine for their gifts to American culture and their perseverance in contributing to the story and rich history of man.  Culture is the bedrock of civilization and Matt Bockelman and Spoonshine are the paths to continuing those traditions that make us so uniquely human.  Their dedication to their art and generosity in bettering all of our lives is nothing less than spectacular.

Besides fighting the battle for continued public funding for the arts, we must also take up the cause individually.  Whatever each and every one of us can do to bolster the presence of the arts in our lives, whatever shape or form we choose to give back, our responsibility is a large part of the endurance of culture.  Remember, the next time a song moves you, a painting transports you to another place in time or a meal makes you feel like you died and went to Heaven, that nothing comes without a price.  Exercise your own generosity, participate in your own cultural legacy, with your presence always and your presents if you are able, and thank your lucky stars that artists are making all of our lives so much richer.

Robert Kennedy said:

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.

Above all, our support of the arts can help us make our world a more beautiful and kinder place.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “The Arts: Civilization in Perpetuity”

  1. NatalieR Says:

    I LOVE the arts. It is amazing how many different forums there are to soak up both historical and contemporary creativity. Even if one is not able financially or physically to support or attend artistic events, one can seek out in many different ways artistic talent.

    I agree with YoMama it is the culture of art, music, literature, theater and today film which will live on. When the Taliban blew up the ancient statues of the Buddha those of us who adore antiquities let out a collective wail. It reinforced how toxic extremist belief is to man and how important it is to contribute to saving those irreplaceable and priceless pieces of man’s artistic creation. The civilization that produced the Buddha statue in Afghanistan is long gone but that remnant of man’s creativity lived until religious dogma blew it up. I read a piece recently which reported they are trying to recreate the statues. I pay tribute to that but also know modern efforts at reconstruction while laudable often do not take the place of the original. That’s okay. I’ll take what I can get. When I went to Dusseldorf, Germany some years ago we were taken to a museum which was built around the destructive obliteration of a building. Inadvertently that bombing uncovered a gorgeous mosaic of Roman art. I took that as a metaphor that even through the destruction of war the art survived!

    Many (I included) complain and loathe some of the pitiful violent garbage on television made to appeal to minds of a dull 10 year old (I guess they have their rights too). My cable provider, however if one wants to search through a myriad of channels, offers endless artistic viewing from PBS to Wealth TV which is non stop classical, baroque, and other music and art of the great masters. It takes one on a film journey through their historic world. It is better than any drug, alcohol or other mind altering substance because it provides a wonderful escape into the auditory and visual magnificence of another world and it does not dull the senses but enhances them.

    Art is everywhere but so many in our society carry a poisonous asp in their pocket wanting to kill much that breathes beauty and life into our world. I have written about the sinew of anti-intellectualism that runs through some of our country’s sclerotic veins. It is sad because this country has, indeed, produced some wonderful works of art in a variety of venues. They deserve our undying support in any way we can.

    There is so much to learn and so little time to learn it but if you have children and even if you do not I believe you owe it to the generations that come after us to imbue them with an appreciation of art, hone their abilities to create it, and support endeavors the best one can to finance it. Devoting our collective dollars to the waging of war, the propping up of tyrannies, and the proliferation of destructiveness will end up on the ash bin of history but art, hopefully will live on long after we do, unless, of course we destroy it in the process. This is an excellent blog.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: