Heifetz, Shaw, & A Blueprint
for Teaching the Arts
George Bernard Shaw, after attending a concert by the
violinist Jascha Heifetz, wrote him a letter.
My Dear Mr. Heifetz:
My wife and I were overwhelmed by your concert.
If you continue to play with such beauty, you will certainly
die young. No one can play with such perfection without
provoking the jealousy of the gods. I earnestly implore
you to play something badly every night before going
Art has such power in our
lives. Through the ages it has been among the most
powerful, influential, motivating aspects of human
experience. It exerts a tremendous impact upon the
lives of us all, even those who do not regularly participate
as viewers or makers of art. Ironically, it also affects
those who pay little attention to it because they think
of it as a strange entity separate from our “other” lives. But art is not only
in the museums, concert halls, or galleries, it also
in the buildings that surround us, sometimes—if
we’re lucky—in the buildings in which we
live; it is in the clothes we wear, the furniture we
buy, the cars we drive, the movies we watch, and on and
on. Certain cultures do not have a word for art within
their vocabulary because it is such an integral part
of their everyday lives. There is a distinct sense of
pleasure shared by cultures around the world, in making
art, discussing art, viewing art; in adding a dimension
of beauty to our environment with art. Historians have
written that the most important “books” of
any culture are the books of art. At various times in
human history, rulers—even recently—have
forbidden people from listening to music, or have destroyed
important and priceless artifacts: once again, art is
powerful! Repression of art arises from fear of its power,
fear of expression, of diversity of thought, of losing
As the Department of Education
releases its new Blueprint for Teaching and Learning
in the Arts, let this message be as loud and clear
as can be: art must be within the schools. We do not,
cannot, will not have schools that fully educate our
nation’s youth until we have
art as an integral part of the daily, weekly, monthly,
and yearly education of every pre-K through 12th-grade
student. It is imperative that high quality works of
art be part of every student’s educational experience.
Students need to see, be part of, and create based on
their encounters with art created by the most imaginative
minds humankind has produced—and continues to produce.
How will students understand what is meant by high standards
unless they see examples of such standards in the classroom?
Since the 1960s, thousands of artists have had the privilege
and responsibility to take art into the classrooms and
theaters of schools around the United States. More often
than not, in my opinion, the finest, most affecting art
has been the result of the artist’s need to share
an idea, through creative expression, with humanity at
large, not just with a particular age group. Such artwork
repays itself over and over again, as each new generation
finds something in it that it can own.
To become an aesthetic object, artworks need to be grasped
by persons who have learned to engage in them, to co-exist
with created things for a time in aesthetic space. Virginia
Wolfe wrote that each of us is part of the work of art.
We are the words, we are the music, we are the thing
itself, such as we are: human at our best, not perfect.
Mr. Heifetz understood that: he allowed himself a false
note once in a while and consequently lived to a ripe
old age of 87.#
Scott Noppe-Brandon is the Executive Director of
the Lincoln Center Institute.