Winslet, Fairey, and Mischke top artists of the year

Charles Alan Kraft

It's been quite a year. In 2008, two wars, an economic meltdown, and an election that highlighted America's gravest problems had everyone a bit on edge.

But before the year flames out, let's put aside those portentous issues and take a moment to remember the artists.

It's a funny thing about the arts. In tough times they tend to be forgotten, as governments and philanthropies cut funds and patrons trim their entertainment budgets. Yet in really tough times, we discover we need artists more than ever. During the Great Depression, people still flocked to movies. Popular songs like "We're in the Money" and "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries" kept people's spirits up. The WPA hired artists to paint thousands of murals across the country.

Artists are an essential part of society, a necessary filter for processing the world: They help us to confront our difficult issues, make sense of them, or escape from them entirely. And let's face it, artists know a thing or two about poverty.

So let's not wait for a catastrophe to appreciate the creative souls among us. On the following pages you'll find some of the year's most inspiring musicians, writers, visual artists, dancers, filmmakers, and more. They made 2008 a better year, and they stand ready to see us through whatever may come in 2009. With any luck, they'll help us appreciate even more the better days to follow. But even in a worst-case scenario, what the hell—we can always use a few more murals.

Begin reading here, or choose below.

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