A recurring theme that crops up in our conversations here at Pub Theo is the role of the arts in our lives. Our discussions regularly reference music, film, poetry and literature, theater and other forms of artistic expression which have touched us or enlightened us in some way. So this week we’re going to talk a little bit about the transformative power of the arts. Take this excerpt from an article published last year in the Financial Times:
Art lifts the spirits, refines them, tutors them. It rewards creativity and awakens the senses. It can be relished individually, yet it also celebrates our shared humanity. And when enough of us come together to enjoy it, it encourages us to behave with social awareness and inculcates a sense of the common good. That applies equally to the first night of a new Wagner production and the bacchanalian raves of rowdier nights out.
This justification can appear irresistible. The role played by the arts in helping to heal mental (and other) illnesses is well-chronicled and persuasively argued. Many aspects of wellbeing — is there a more scrutinised concept today? — are associated with some form of artistic expression. A casual coffee is better enjoyed listening to a carefully curated soundtrack. Even a routine journey on the London Underground can be enhanced, rendered life-affirming, by posters of poetry and conceptual art riddles.
The implication in the article is that the arts have the power to take us out of our daily lives and make us “feel good” or “feel better” in part by helping distract us from the more serious cares and controversies that surround us. There can, of course, be a dark side to this distraction. As the author of the article notes, a man could read Goethe by evening, listening to Bach and Schubert, and still report to his job at Auschwitz in the morning. The danger is that the vividness of artistic expression can be so powerful that we remain not just distracted from, but impervious to the real concerns around us. In short, there are limits:
There is, pharmaceutics aside, no greater way of soothing the troubled soul than a profound engagement with art. But there is also no guarantee that it will relax us all the way to moral enlightenment. It may do; but not necessarily. There is a rupture between truth and beauty, those traditional concerns of art, and ethics. The heavenly melodies of a Mozart sonata cannot bridge that chasm. They can put us in the mood, but never tell us the right thing to do.
In sum, the greatest art “must be harnessed to the human experience, as it is actually lived, to have the greatest effect on us. … That is when it is truly good for us; when it is on the side of goodness.”
Join us for the conversation tomorrow evening beginning at 7 pm as we talk about the role of the arts in our lives. What forms of artistic expression have the power to take you out of your daily life, in a good way? Can you remember the first piece of art to have that effect on you? What was it, and why was it so powerful? We’ll talk about all this, and probably a lot more.
Click on the link below to join us for our virtual conversation Tuesday evening.