The Museum of Modern Art in New York City was opened in May 1939. In a radio address, Franklin D. Roosevelt told the American people, "Crush individuality in society and you crush art as well. Nourish the conditions of a free life and you nourish the arts, too. In encouraging the creation and enjoyment of beautiful things we are furthering democracy itself. That is why this museum is a citadel of civilization (a fortress protecting civilization)." FDR also argued art in the United States had "always belonged to the people and has never been the property of an academy or class. As in our democracy we enjoy the right to believe in different religious creeds or in none, so can American artists express themselves with complete freedom from the strictures of dead artistic tradition or political ideology."
In November 1940, Ione Robinson returned to New York City to showcase her paintings and drawings at the Bonestell Gallery. Ione earlier bore witness to the 1936-39 Spanish civil war and the start of World War II in 1939. She told the Associated Press, "An artist in this time (the late 1930s and early 1940s) has one of the most important jobs. The only things that last in this world are cultural things. They are the things that bring about understanding – peace. I feel that as an artist, an American artist, I have a real responsibility to work for cultural understanding between people – to help keep democracy and make democracy strong."
Ione made the observation, "I sometimes wonder, what people think artists are. They seem to think artists don't have to have money...I don't have the romantic idea that it's necessary for an artist to starve to be a good artist. It's much more important for people who are creative to have normal, healthy lives."
Ione also made known, "You don't know how poor I was when I first came to New York (Ione was barely 18 then). I was lonely and afraid, a Westerner, and I thought New York was so sophisticated. I used to look at the people, and they scared the life out of me. It was about 1927. Every one was rich and being psychoanalyzed. The people seemed so nutty – I think if I hadn't been a Westerner I couldn't have survived." It was reported Ione "lived in a single room in a Greenwich Village basement, did her own cooking and washing. Her budget was 75 cents a day." In Paris, Ione recalled, "It was a crazy period. People sat in cafes all the time. I was almost ready to give up being an artist. I thought maybe it would be better to be a horse trader." By visiting Italy, Ione "saw the frescoes, the paintings of Fra Angelico and Donatello's statues", which helped Ione to decide "that art was useful and that the battle was worth the cost." It was reported Ione was the youngest winner of a Guggenhelm fellowship (she was 21 at the time).
The term "liberal arts" was said to have derived from the Latin phrase "artes liberales" (meaning "that which should be known by a free man"). Alvin Schmidt, the professor of sociology at Illinois College had said, "Education is about freeing and liberating the human mind from the shackles of ignorance." Plato, the Greek philosopher, reportedly encouraged "education on civics and social responsibility in order to prepare the best and brightest for their role as leaders in society." Jean Jacques Rousseau had reasoned "learning should protect a child from civilization's corrupting influences and seek to bring out his natural instincts."
David Masci wrote in the Congressional Quarterly in 1998: "The liberal arts have been taught since ancient times. In fact, until the 20th century, liberal arts was just about the only form of higher education in the United States, or any place else. Today (in 1998), the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences still form the core of most college and university programs. But a large number of students no longer focus on them. At many colleges and universities, business courses, communications, education and engineering programs are much more popular than, say, history or English.
"A century ago... students immersed themselves in the culture of the West, including the great classical civilizations of Greece and Rome, the Judeo-Christian tradition and the artists and thinkers of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the early modern period. For many scholars, the Western tradition is still the foundation of any good education. Americans, regardless of their ethnic origin, live in a Western country, governed by Western ideas in politics, economics, science and technology. Hence, they cannot understand their society without a grounding in Western culture, these scholars maintain.
"In addition, many argue, the intellectual achievements of the West far surpass those of all other cultures. For instance, they say, almost all scientific and political advances have taken place in the West. Even in less quantifiable disciplines, like literature or philosophy, the size and historical impact of the Western canon far outweigh those of, say, Asia or Africa. But other scholars say that focusing on the primacy of Western tradition is misguided.
"Non-Western cultures also have rich traditions that any student could and should benefit from, they claim. In fact, people steeped only in the art and ideas of Europe cannot consider themselves well-educated, they say. Just as important, these scholars argue, the curriculum needs to reflect trends in our world and country. Revolutions in transportation and communications have brought the planet much closer together. In addition, immigration and other factors are transforming the United States from a nation peopled largely by the descendants of Western Europeans into a multiethnic society."