Jerry Rubin is fasting. Again.

This time it is to save the Paul Conrad sculpture “Chain Reaction,” which is outside the Santa Monica Courthouse where I appear for domestic violence and child custody cases. The sculpture is suffering some wear and tear. It needs either repairs or to be removed.

I have always liked that sculpture because I love puns and it is a visual pun. I’d be sorry to see it go, and I believe that we should repair it if we can. Seeing how City Hall has the funds to underwrite those few who cannot afford their own housing, it seems to me that we should at least have a strong program that supports public art.

Art is a very important part of a society, and in fact it is in some ways a measure of the success or failure of a society, and its health. Take for example China about 3,000 years ago. The society was doing well, people had food and shelter and there was enough peace that artists and artisans were flourishing. I say this because of the many sculptures that survive such as the terracotta soldiers in Xi’an, the furnishings of the Imperial Palace that date back that far, and the history that proves a general sense of well-being was felt throughout the land.

Contrast that with 10 years ago in Afghanistan when the Taliban controlled the state. They embarked on a mission to obliterate anything they felt was “un-Islamic” and they destroyed two 15-centuries-old statutes. The destruction of art is an assault on culture, and a way in which dictators rewrite the history of a place and change the prevailing thoughts of the people.

The Soviets did the same thing with artists and writers, squelching their voices so that the proletariat was more easily led.

Art is the provenance of new thought. Sometimes art is awe inspiring and invites us to reach for greater goals, in others it shines a light on hypocrisy and absurdity.

Stetson Kennedy wrote a series of exposes on the Ku Klux Klan that used sarcasm and mockery to illuminate the secret society. From his Wikipedia page: “In 1947, Kennedy provided information — including secret code words and details of Klan rituals — to the writers of the ‘Superman’ radio program that became the basis for a series of 16 episodes in which Superman took on the Klan. Kennedy intended to strip away the Klan’s mystique; and the trivialization of the Klan’s rituals and code words likely had a negative impact on Klan recruiting and membership,” which helped lead to its marginalization and spurred the civil rights movement forward.

Our society is in trouble. California schools have gutted their music and arts programs as we slash budgets to pay for the building of new prisons. It is a headlong assault on our freedoms and our intelligence that is being driven by power seeking politicians who pander to their corporate overlords and fearful unthinking voters. By being “tough on crime” and “anti-taxes” we have created a society that will gladly pay to lock someone up for 25 to life, but refuses to teach a child to paint.

We have created a production line for new criminal behavior because we refuse to teach our children skills that will allow them to flourish, and to let their creativity soar. Instead we build prisons and pay for prison guards who are employed by corporations that require a constant flow of new bodies. Much like the Farmer John slaughterhouse in downtown, they require a daily influx of new meat to prove their necessity so that their budgets will be renewed in the coming years.

It is a shame that we prefer to warehouse our youth, rather than fund programs that will educate and enlighten them. At my Westside Toastmasters group this past Wednesday a speech was given on teaching children south Asian geography and the Arabic alphabet. In nine weeks the class went from being unable to identify any south Asian country to identifying all of them. The children were excited when they learned to write their names in Arabic. That took one teacher, for part of a class, nine weeks.

Those children are excited about learning. Not learning how to commit crimes, but learning useful information.

Art is a social thermometer. It tells us how healthy we are as a society. We need to support it.

 

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in father’s and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist.  He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or (310) 664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.

 

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