This is a wise speech. Dana Gioai was in the corporate world prior to becoming a poet. Much like Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive most of his life. Though I would not compare Mr. Gioai's work to Mr. Stevens as I have not read enough of Mr. Gioai's. However if I were to place a blind bet...it would be on Stevens.
I was delighted with his speech until the paragraph where he blames the artists
“…surely artists and intellectuals are partly to blame. Most American artists, intellectuals, and academics have lost their ability to converse with the rest of society. We have become wonderfully expert in talking to one another, but we have become almost invisible and inaudible in the general culture. ..”
He never defines this in any detail. Nor does he say what artists can specifically do “to reestablish their rightful place in the general culture.” What does he mean by general culture? Does he mean that we should write or paint or perform for that nebulous mainstream that is used as an excuse to reject our attempts at visibility?
He seems to imply that intellectuals should reduce their intellect in order to be understood by the broader public, when in fact what I believe we need to do is restore the opportunities to uplift the intellect of the broader public.
He conveniently neglects the war on artists that has been waged for the past couple of decades, a war primarily waged by the same people who appointed him to his position. The federal government did not sit by while local governments eliminated arts programs in the public schools. The federal government was actively involved in pressuring local governments to beware of those pesky artists and their potential to actually show students how to question conformity and celebrate individuality.
I hate to get all Aristotle on the guy's ass but if you searched and replaced "art" and "artist" for "virtue" or "philosophy" and "philosopher" you can see my problem.
Art is not the same as virtue and it is not art's mandate to instill it. Art may help us understand virtue or illuminate it, but what this guy wants is for us to lead virtuous lives and be good citizens. I don't know if art education gets you there.
Another criticism is this - he never adequately deals with his great opener - I'm not famous enough. Here in the UK that is what kids want to be - famous. Just famous - not famous for doing anything. This appetite for fame without aspiration to accomplishment is somehow linked, don't you think, to the lack of virtue. But how and why needs to be explored.