The symbolism of July 4th is apparent in the arts that are rewarding to those who create and those who receive what they have to offer. Music, painting, sculpture, literature, drama, and cooking provide an outlet for expression by the craftsperson or artist and a world of discovery for those who appreciate what they see, hear, feel, or taste. Most of us have come to expect that these avenues of expression will be available, but that is not always the case. In parts of the world these platforms are controlled for fear of how they will inspire others to question the political or religious environment where they reside. Art is difficult to thwart because it is like life itself – it finds a way to appear and grow. When controlled it rebels, when ignored it finds a way to find an audience.
Art without freedom may seem difficult to imagine, but it finds a way to overcome. In fact, art is the antidote for autocracy, fascism, and censorship. Art can be light and easy going, or it can rise up through resistance and courage and bang its fist on the table. The greatest enemy of control and limitation is art – thus, throughout the world it is one of the first things that dictators, fascists, and power seekers try to monitor and moderate. It is art that we should revere because it is art’s job to free our thinking, provide us with the chance to express our feelings, and give us a platform to discover all that we might be.
On this day, every year, Americans celebrate July 4th – Independence Day. This is the day that our forefathers declared their separation from control of English rule. It is a day when we raise our flag, feel that sense of belongingness to something important, remember for a few hours the history of our country, watch a parade, set aside many of our concerns with government and feel that twinge of patriotism. It is one of those days when many countries throughout the world recognize that regardless of its many rough edges – the United States represents something important, maybe even great. But a growing number of people feel uneasy about the idea of freedom and how fragile the platform of democracy is. This is never more apparent than when we look at the significance of this platform to the arts. The arts represent the canary in the coal mine to the stability of democracy. When the arts feel a tinge of control, when the freedom of expression is in question, then a threat to the platform itself becomes real.
Just as the coal miner looks to the canary for signs of the freedom to breathe, we should all look to the arts for a sense of our democratic future and our ability to breathe the oxygen of freedom. At the same time, we can rest assured that the tenacles of freedom will use art to find a way to shine light on the possibilities that freedom portrays.
We should all celebrate what we have on July 4th. We should raise our flags, hold a hand over our heart and be proud patriots of American democracy, but we should never take it for granted. We can never ignore what it means to be free, and we must never ignore just how fragile it is. It is important that we protect and admire the concept of independence or misconstrue what we may think that it means.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The expression of Life, Liberty, and Happiness is facilitated through the arts. Thus, an attempt to minimize, censor, or eradicate forms of expression through music, painting, sculpture, literature, drama, or cooking is an attack on the platform of democracy. When people seek to stop this expression or misuse it as a vehicle for lies and misrepresentations – a way to incite rather than heal and excite; when art is manipulated as a weapon for destructive causes then we should be cautious. Democracy provides us with that platform, the basis of freedom that we all enjoy and sometimes take for granted; a platform that allows painters, musicians, sculptors, actors, writers, and chefs to express themselves and share this expression with others. It is a fragile platform, and the arts are unique instruments that serve as a most significant vehicle for freedom’s voice.
On this day we should not only give thanks for American democracy and independence, but also acknowledge how important it is to pay attention to the vehicles for freedoms voice. We need to support the arts in all their forms, understand the power that they hold, be aware that there will always be some people filled with ill intent who will use art to spread lies and conspiracies, but know that protecting the right of expression is protecting the foundations of democracy. It is a tightrope that requires us all to be open minded and well-informed, appreciative, and willing to approach everything with some level of cautious optimism, and dedicated to keeping the platform of freedom amenable to musicians, authors, painters, sculptors, actors, and chefs to present their art. Historically, when countries begin to ban books, censor writers, close opportunities to view art, hear certain forms of musical expression, inflict government control over what we watch or hear, or even taste – then the very foundations of democracy are in jeopardy.
On this July 4th, let’s do more than celebrate the day, let’s commit ourselves to protecting those vehicles of freedom that are essential in a democracy. To protect them is to protect democracy itself and the very thing that we celebrate today.
Every chef is a technician and a craftsperson, but he or she is also an artist seeking expression on the plate and every restaurant guest is an appreciator of this art. We are cut from the same cloth as those who play a musical instrument, pick up a paint brush, begin that new novel, write a blog post, or stand on a stage to represent a time and place. We are the ambassadors of freedom.
Happy 4th of July!
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