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David and Art - "Radio, Radio"

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In listening to the radio, you sometimes encounter art without even realizing it.

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During a very influential few years of my life I listened to a lot of radio. Not just Top 40 but talk radio back before it became what it is today. In particular, I listened to the old Larry King Show. He had a nighttime national show with all sorts of different guests and it wasn’t so much the guests that I was into because some of them weren’t very interesting. It was that I was absorbing the art of a great communicator.

If I didn’t fall asleep, I would listen into the next show whose host was Jim Bohannon. I’ve been lucky enough to be on Jim Bohannon’s show twice and he’s one of the best interviewers I’ve ever heard. Which is just to say that he’s one of the best communicators in the business.

A few generations ago people said the same thing about a man named Arthur Godfrey, one of the first great communicators in radio history. Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite were two more legendary communicators whose names may be more familiar.

So…what does this have to do with art? Well, it boils down to the fact that humans thrive on effective communication. And telling stories is a form of art.

How many people do you know who can tell a story really well? How many people do you know who can hold your attention through the power of the spoken word? As author and pundit Christopher Hitchens used to say, How many of your friends do you really like to listen to?

Whether you’re an artist or a teacher or a broadcaster, effective communication is what you’re after. It takes as much work to communicate effectively with words as it does with a paintbrush or a saxophone, it’s just a little harder for us to think of it that way because we all go around talking. Not too many of us go around playing Coltrane.

If you learn more about different kinds of art, you can better appreciate what artists are up to. If you know a little more about music you can understand the communicative aspect of it better even something as complex as bebop. If you understand a little more about painting the better you’ll be able to understand the communicative aspect that’s present in all art even abstraction.

Several years ago, a writer for the New York Times said that storytelling will not disappear “as long as there are people who can fire imagination with words modulated by voices that reflect nuances the printed page cannot.” That’s what connects storytelling to more typical forms of art. Like painting, music and sculpture, it fires the imagination of those who encounter it, transforming the audience into vested participants instead of detached spectators. Even if we’re just listening to the radio.