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Two Quotes

The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.--President John Adams

In times like these, when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams (and people in and around power are cheering the destruction on), we're reminded of how little progress we've made in Adams' generational strategic plan. To be fair, though, I'm sure he was well aware of human nature, and his hopes were more like a dream. Which brings us to the truth of the following:

The theater is an empty box; it is our task to fill it with fury, and ecstasy, and with revolution.

This is a line from the outstanding Canadian television series Slings & Arrows, about the travails of a provincial theater company. The idea behind this list (incomplete, of course) of the "purposes" of art is a challenge to all of us who create, recreate, and write about art. Entertainment has its place, of course, but we shouldn't lose sight of the power of art to move, excite, and enrage people. Not to mention the oft-stated and under-attempted power of art to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

When we choose works to perform/produce, write about, or create, it wouldn't hurt to keep in mind the power we might have. If you can move people away from where they feel safe, even if only for a hour or two, you will have done some good. If you can play the development section of the first movement of the Beethoven 3 with more bite, you will have done some good. If your Weill is a bit vile, you will have done some good. If your Shostakovich makes them squirm, you will have done some good.

Fill the box.

2 comments:

  1. This is great, Steve! A perfect description of the "purposes" (thanks for the quotation marks) of art. And a bit of a rallying cry.

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  2. Very good post, Steve. It calls to mind the quote by Michael Tippett that I keep on the wall above my desk:

    "What Are Artists For?"

    ......an age-old tradition, fundamental to our civilization, which goes back into pre-history and will go forward into the unknown future. this tradition is to create images from the depths of the imagination and to give them form whether visual, intellectual or musical. For it is only through images that the inner world communicates at all. Images of vigour for a decadent period, images of calm for one too violent. Images of reconciliation for the worlds torn by division. And in an age of mediocrity and shattered dreams, images of abounding, generous, exuberant beauty.

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