“None the Wiser:”

"None the Wiser" - Students’ Reactions to the history of the NEA, the Culture Wars and US Obscenity Laws

As a professor of Arts, Culture and Society, I’m making students read the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, John Frohnmayer’s, book “Leaving Town Alive.” Frohnmayer was Chairman during the Culture Wars / Jesse Helm’s crusade to destroy the first amendment. I’m also making them read parts of my thesis (totally a dream come true, SOMEONE actually reading it.)

I’m making students jot down their reactions to each chapter.

It’s refreshing to me to take these optimistic minds, some would call naive but I call “delightful, curious sponges,” read through this book with the same level of horror that I did. That means society has changed, even a little, since 1993 (the year the book was published). These kids have grown up believing in free speech (well...believing everyone has the right to exercise it, which, those reading this could probably come up with at least 5 examples of that being a false notion), in being able to love and marry who you want to love, in being decent human beings who favor community over money and baffled that they are people in Congress that seek to suppress any of that. I do feel a tiny sting of sadness having to inform them there is still extreme suppression of SO many rights in this country but I’m hoping it makes them even more compassionate & inclusive, even more willing to advocate for the causes they’re the most passionate about instead of depressing them....that is yet to be determined. I should add, not all of them are dewy-eyed school children. A lot of them already have a pretty healthy sense of irony and skepticism, so perhaps for them this class will encourage them to, if I can quote Gandhi, “be the change they want to see in the world,” if they don’t already feel that sense of duty.

I’ll be referring to their (anonymous) insights here, on my blog, and in Artistic Rebuttal newsletters in a bi-monthly segment and asking you all add to the conversation.

I’m calling this segment “None The Wiser” in reference to legislative / judicial branches of US government throughout history trying to impose their own definition of “obscenity” or “good art” or “bad art” upon the art world and artists yet still not having a concrete definition for either. Problematic is so, so many ways.

Look out for the first topic in May!

-Amy Scheidegger