Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Arts R OK

The following is from a recent correspondence with a colleague:

"I think I share with you a belief in the transcendence of art and beauty, that great art is inspired by divinity and that it glorifies God.  There is precious little else to explain why any of us would sacrifice so much in these pursuits, and that includes the most "secular" or "postmodern" etc. among us.  We are all drawn to what is divine in this world where we are inexplicably separated from what we once knew yet have a dim recollection of.  I think it is a mistake to make straw men of any artists who are sincerely exploring and creating and sacrificing for their work, their vision, and their divinely gifted imagination.  Where I do see a massive problem is in the commercialization of everything, particularly the arts, and in the academy's embrace of mass-produced drivel in place of art.  This is where I think we are losing our students.  I am not opposed to the existence of Hollywood, or Madison Avenue, or Nashville, etc.  But I have watched in sadness the gradual philistinization of our culture as market values have all but extinguished the values of integrity, truth, beauty, and sharing for their own sake, not for commercial or competetive values.  

"One of the reasons for this degradation in our culture has been the end of the cold war.  The Cold War caused us to try to prove to the world that our system could produce the best and most ennobled society and culture.   I think this applies to areas other than the arts, including journalism, education, politics, etc.  Artists and institutions, whether they were aware of it or not, felt a sort of higher calling to create and produce things that would be examples of the product of our society and its values during the Cold War.  When it ended, this impetus, this support for achievement, exploration, and even excellence was replaced by pure market values, what could be quantified with money.  It seems that all of our institutions have moved in this direction.  It's all about the bottom line.

"This is why the arts are more important than ever, and more especially arts that challenge and are not defined by/beholden to the marketplace.  More important than their profoundly positive influence on people and groups of people is their fundamental value, i.e. their eternal value that is not defined by anything else but themselves.  Like love, art is valuable in itself.  I don't think it is accidental that the angels are always represented in scripture as singing or playing musical instruments.  I think they probably do that a lot.  I think we were made to sing and dance, as well as paint and write and speak, both to praise God and to simply revel in our existence.

"So I guess I'm less worried about some of these questions.  Important questions and answers are most eloquently asked and answered in sincere, sustained, mindful, inspired, and skillful work that we engage in and foster in our students."