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THE WORDS WE SPEAK

AS ARTS EDUCATORS

by Edward L. Kamarck
Edward L. Kamarck served as President of
the American Council for the Arts in Education during the years 1971-73. What follows is
the text of his final Presidential address,
delivered to the annual meeting of the Council
in Philadelphia on May 19, 1973.

I've cudgeled my brains trying to devise a


serviceable frame in which I might cast these
last few remarks I will be making to you in
my role as President.
I, of course, wanted to make them clear,
pointed , and pithy-an eloquent summation of
all that I have learned and thought during
the last two years. Though an awesome aim,
with some effort it seemed a realizable one.
I reminded myself that there was certainly
enough to talk about.
So I cleared an afternoon and sat down to
write. But as is customary the first few words
that came, came grudgingly. But even as a
start these would hardly do. They were
bloated, prestigious, pious words-words
beat out on a hollow drum. They were words
that a foundation official might speak.
I made a fresh start, now deliberately eschewing the overreaching thoughts , telling myself
I must think and write as I think and write
daily , using the habitual words that I have
stamped as my own. And writing more quickly now, for I had cranked out these old
friends a thousand times or more, out across
the page , with the ponderous precision of
Roman legions, marched phrases like:
" formulating a more efficacious organizationa l
instrumentalit y," and, " dissemination and
diffusion of policy studies of significant
issues to all strata of education and society."
My God, I thought to myself, these are dessicated words, words of obeisance to bureaucratic rectitude.
Another start. This time I took myself firmly
in hand , and questioned what it was I really
believed . Did I, in fact, deeply feel the arts
in education could have an important role in
helping to underpin the whole destiny of not
only our culture, but democracy itself, and
perhaps even survival as a race? Yes, I said,

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I absolutely believe all of that. I more than


believe, I know these suppositions to be true.
I know it in my bones.
Good, I answered, you're finally on the right
track. Just let yourself go and write with all
the fervor, force, and passion you're capable
of. Write from your heart of hearts, from
where you really live!
1 wrote with enormous ferocity, my pencil digging deep canals into the paper. Glowing
visions and possibilities tumbled out. At
times I was perched on a majestic mountain
top, evoking oceanic dreams for all of mankind, and the words seemed benign, loving,
contemplative , full of foresight and hope.
And at times I stood in a kind of abstract and
surreal court of justice, wherein I was the
attorney for the defense and the wall-less
courtroom teemed with multitudes of murmuring arts educators at my back. I stood fearlessly alone facing a tribunal of hard-faced
judges, one of whom represented the foundations, one all of educational administration ,
and one all of the government agencies
everywhere. And now my words seemed biting and polemical, slashing with attack, anger,
and indignation, bearing home my arguments
with relentless logic.
And at times I found myself alone in a garret,
and the misty rooftops of early twentieth century Paris stretched out from my north window. In dawn's azure light I gazed in brooding narcissistic pride at my bearded face in
the mirror. A veritable creature of destinyiconoclast, nihilist, volatile temperament,
protean talent! Laying deep dark plans to
epater le bourgeois. And the words that
issued from my throat seemed the roars of a
sabre-toothed tiger.
And at times-but my pencil faltered , for it
seemed futile to go on. There was a sense of
tired familiarity about all these words.
Hadn 't I heard them countless times before,
in gatherings, conferences, and co nventions
from coast to coast? An interminable record
droned out these words ad nauseum in arts
meetings without end. Although I had long
bel ieved them , had said them myself, and still
devotedly followed many who gave them
passionate utterance, hadn't the substance
really drained out of these words? Oh,
authority they once had , and vi gor, and rich

promise-but for other times, and other


places, and other kinds of men. Curiosities to
be fondled, wondered at, and reverently
stowed behind the glass cases of museums,
they are words to which society has long
turned a deaf ear.
At the top of a fresh sheet of paper I printed
in large letters: What we urgently need are
new and better words. And I had finally
found the apt frame I was seeking for this
talk, for it is words that I largely busied
myself with as President , and it is words that
I constantly fretted about.
For almost twenty-four months in letters,
speeches, conversations, meetings, and
charges to this group, I have endlessly
cajo led, wheed led, pushed, urged, and tugged
at words imploring them to open themselves
to more expressive meaning. As a long-time
editor, and one thecefore who almost can't
help but develop a neurotic self-consciousness about his own use of words, I had dimly
antici pated at the start of my term , way back
at Durham, that the finding of the necessary
eloquence might constitute an irksome challenge. But I, of course , assumed that as my
experience and understanding grew, the less
intractable the words would become. To a
degree that happened, but alas! only to a
small degree. For one, the more I came to
know and the more this group came to know,
and we have embraced ever larger imperatives these last few years, the more I sensed
the enormous need for ever richer evocation
in the words, and not only in the words by
which this Council represents itself but also in
those employed by all who presume to speak
for the arts in education in this country.
When I say words , I mean language- that
complex of symbols through which we primarily make known to ourselves and to others
what we are, what we are about, and what
we want. Language has been called the blueprint of reality, both springing from and in
turn shaping understanding in dynamically
reciprocal relationsh ip. In this time of tumultuous change, we have now in the arts in education, as in every area of life , a crisis of
language. It is a crisis characterized on the
one hand by a massive alienation of the old
words from vital meaning, and on the other by
a comprehensive need to create through
language a far more enlarged and far more
flexible frame of understanding, one capable

of grasping and making clear the nature of


our constantly emerging reality.
The always moving , ever shifting mobile of
our three worlds- that of art, that of education, and that of life; do we have the words to
articulate them in imaginative measure and
frame, as a unified reality, and that a living
human one, designed to serve man? I would
hold that the arts in education have never
had such words, and that it is the poverty of
the arsenal of our words that significantly
accounts for our impotency in society.
The language of the arts in education has
been an eclectic one, an oddly assorted mixture of jargons, values, and visions, wordsymbols haphazardly assembled, originally
from the oft-clash ing worlds of aesthetics and
pedagogy, and more lately from art history,
sociology, anthropology, and cultural history.
But we have never made the words uniquely
our own, nor have we ever melded them into
an all-embracing language. There are spaces
between the words we use, and they speak
variously of divisiveness and narrowness, of
exclusiveness of professional concern, of
technical competence, of scholarly standards
and (occasionally in the same breath) of
romantic effusiveness. Seldom if ever do
t hese words speak , single-voiced, of man.
Today, as has been our wont, the arts in education are again sharply on the defensive.
And perhaps more than ever before, for we
are now being attacked from both flanks , by
our traditional enemies who have always
regarded the arts as trivial ornamentation, as
well as by would-be-friends, those who
voraciously champion the arts. The former,
under the banners of budget and accountability, are now systematically hacking away
huge pieces of our hard-won resource, while
the latter, proclaiming a more fervid faith and
clearer vision, would topple our structures
from both without and within.
And our words of defense? How effective
have they been? Of what reality do the
puffed-up, pietistic, quixotic, self-serving
words speak-the ones we arts educators
customarily dust off and polish up for such
occasions? I would suggest that there are
enormous social stirrings in society of which
these words give absolutely no hint (as those
of us who were at Los Angeles* last summer
well know). Where, we must ask, are the

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resonances of those humanistic impulses of


most impressive vitality now arising in the
ghettos , and most dramatically there, but also
among the youth, the aging, the women, the
handicapped , in the professions, and in
increasing number of institutions (including
even the schools!)? These are impulses
toward a redefinition of experience, toward a
more affirmative assertion of human value ,
which in the matrix of their energies and
motivations are uniquely culture-gener ating,
finding a natural ally in the acuity and eloquence of creative vision.
In effect, there is much evidence intimating
that the times call not for retreat and defense
but for growth and bold advance. As never
before the occasion seems most ripe for the
highlighting of new settings, new resources,
new roles, new objectives, and new participants for the arts in education. As never
before the occasion seems singularly propitious for the development of a language which
will articu late a positive o rientation toward the
fusion of human value , human need , and a
creatively human education.
What will be the characteristic s of such a
language, and by what criteria will we know
when we are getting close? I would think it
will be a language of notably one piece,
enriching , life-enhancing , value-assertiv e,
open , flexible, and dynamic-a language, in
sho rt, whi ch can live with change, invite
change, and shape change, and with notable
imagination and responsibility.
How do we attain such a language? I would
suggest, with some pride, that this Council
may have been going about it in the very
best way. In fact, our way may be the only
way, for it is institutions which are the
prime generators of symbols, and what institution in the arts in ed ucation is more broadly
based than ours?-or is now more open,
may I add. For a number of years , you
recall , we learned first to talk to one another,
across the arts. A logical beginning step,
and it set a firm foundation for our baptism
by fire- the baptism which at Wingsp read

This is in reference to the landmark national conference which the Council sponsored in Los Angeles
during the summer of 1972 on " Community Arts and
Community Survi val." I t is described in some detail in
Mr. Reiss 's background paper, on page 351 of this
issue of Arts In Society.

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four years ago laid bare the sterility of our


shibboleths with shocking impact and set us
on a cou rse from which we can never return.
Arts/ Worth, Los Angeles, the many studies
and researches our staff has set in motion,
the colloqu ium in February, this meeting-all
have demonstrated the rightness of that
course. As does the increasing range and
power of the words we say to one another
and to the society at large. For me Los
Angeles shall always remain a benchmark,
for I don't believe I shall ever forget the
words spoken there. They were among the
most impelling and electric words I have
heard anywhere.
For some twelve years now we have been
endeavoring in this Council to build what
many of us feel can be a most significant new
institution. This is clearly intended as an
important force for leadership, which across
a very broad front-the broadest one we are
capable of conceiving-w ill strive with and
through others to achieve a process of
learning toward a more vital quality of life for
Americans. By what measures are we to
judge our effectiveness? I suggest that a
primary measure, and of course there are
others, would be the degree to which in this
area of endeavor, we are able to express the
aspirations, the possibilities, and the social
and spiritual needs of our age before others,
better than others, and more completely than
others. " Before others"-if we are to presume to lead ; " better than othe rs"-if we are
to win the depth and extent of the support
we must have; and "more completely than
others"- because amplitude of vision is our
necessary hallmark, our reason for being
as a Cou nci I.