I did my graduate degree in Liberal Studies – which basically means that you design your own course of study around a theme or interest. My theme was how societies encourage or discourage creativity. The various courses included the Arts and Sciences in 1930, Black Intellectual History in the U.S. (I did a paper on Duke Ellington), and Tocqueville (my paper contrasted Tocqueville’s views of the possibility of the arts in a democracy with Aaron Copland’s views of how American democracy encouraged his art).
One of the things mentioned in my reading about creativity in the U.S. was that, among other things, we gave the world three cultural innovations – baseball, jazz and musicals. Musicals are a significant part of our homeschooling – because of what they show about American society, because of their creativity, because my daughter loves them (the internet movie data base, imdb.com along with the Tony award website are favorites of hers), and because I love them too.
This evening we watched “Sunday in the Park with George,” which is my favorite Sondheim musical, and one of my favorite musicals altogether (with Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, two of my favorite actors). One of the things I like about it is the way that Sondheim’s words, and James Lapine’s book of the play, weave various commentaries about creativity together [Now, if you have not seen this musical, you don’t want to read the rest of this].
George Seurat, in the first half, knows what he wants to paint and capture, but is almost totally inept at relationships –either the one with Dot, his girlfriend, or the relationships with other artists and the public. He never sold a painting in his brief life. The George in the second half, Seurat’s great-grandson, is great at relationships and “working the crowd,” but he’s lost his way with his art, doesn’t know what he wants to create anymore and ends up doing the same thing over and over. Dot, who gradually learns to understand Seurat even though she cannot live with him, inspires their great-grandson at the end (though one essay I read suggested that “Dot” may not even really exist – that she’s just a pointillistic part of his painting).
Both halves also show the interaction between the artist and society; the modern interaction being very commercial, and the older one being both commercial and envious – as one character says, “Work is what you do for others, leibchin, art is what you do for yourself.” (Star Trek fans see a different side of Brent Spiner)
Aaack! What I’ve written sounds so dry – and the musical is not.