I’ve been putting off writing this post about why educators should invest in artist, composer, and poetry studies. Though there are some easy answers, the subject as a whole is above my philosophical pay-grade. So I thought I’d pass along a few words that might help articulate why appreciation of the arts is worth the hard work, time, and money.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Nobel Lecture in Literature, 1970, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
Who will create for mankind one system of interpretation, valid for good and evil deeds, for the unbearable and the bearable, as they are differentiated today? Who will make clear to mankind what is really heavy and intolerable and what only grazes the skin locally? Who will direct the anger to that which is most terrible and not to that which is nearer? Who might succeed in transferring such an understanding beyond the limits of his own human experience? Who might succeed in impressing upon a bigoted, stubborn human creature the distant joy and grief of others, an understanding of dimensions and deceptions which he himself has never experienced? Propaganda, constraint, scientific proof – all are useless. But fortunately there does exist such a means in our world! That means is art. That means is literature.
They can perform a miracle: they can overcome man’s detrimental peculiarity of learning only from personal experience so that the experience of other people passes him by in vain. From man to man, as he completes his brief spell on Earth, art transfers the whole weight of an unfamiliar, lifelong experience with all its burdens, its colours, its sap of life; it recreates in the flesh an unknown experience and allows us to possess it as our own.
Beauty Will Save the World, by Brian Zahnd:
The ancient Greek philosophers, and later the early church fathers, spoke of three prime virtues: truth, goodness, and beauty. As prime virtues, truth, goodness, and beauty need no further justification—they are their own justification, which is a way of saying that truth, goodness, and beauty don’t need to be made practical—they don’t have to do anything to be of value. The value of a virtue is inherent; we simply choose truth, goodness, and beauty because they are true, good, and beautiful.
School Education, by Charlotte Mason:
Thou hast set my feet in a large room, should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking – the strain would be too great – but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not, – how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education – but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?
The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon:
“Why do we marry, why take friends and lovers? Why give ourselves to music, painting, chemistry or cooking? Out of simple delight in the resident goodness of creation, of course; but out of more than that, too. Half earth’s gorgeousness lies hidden in the glimpsed city it longs to become.”
“For all its rooted loveliness, the world has no continuing city here; it is an outlandish place, a foreign home, a session in via to a better version of itself-and it is our glory to see it so and to thirst until Jerusalem comes home at last. We were given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great.”
“Every real thing is a joy, if only you have eyes and ears to relish it, a nose and tongue to taste it.”
“One real thing is closer to God than all the diagrams in the world.”
“The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers – amateurs – it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral – it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.”
An Experiment in Criticism, by C.S. Lewis:
“The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)”
“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented…. In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”
Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, by Mark Doty:
Certainly this is true of poetry, the poems of the dead. Where there was a person, a voice, a range and welter of experience compressed into lines and images, now there are only lines and images. where there was a life, now there is a form.
And the form, spoken, breathes something of that life out into the world again. It restores a human presence; hidden in the lines, if they are good lines, is the writer’s breath, are the turns of thought and of phrase, the habits of saying, which make those words unmistakable. And so the rest is a permanent intimacy; we are brought into relation with the perceptual character, the speaking voice, of someone we probably never knew, someone no one can know now, except in this way.
Boy Meets Painting. Painting Grabs Boy. Boy Mystified., by Robert Krulwich:
To this day I cannot explain what happened to me. The fact that it kept happening — keeps happening, all these (almost) 60 years since — is one of the mysteries of my life. Cezanne produced precarious little worlds that almost, almost, almost lose their balance, but somehow hold themselves together, creating tension, beauty and danger all at once. But why would these crazy dares thrill an 8-year-old? What was it about me that was ready for Cezanne? Because I was so ready. Even in the second grade.
Here’s all I can think: that when we are born, we are born with a sort of mood in us, a mood that comes to us through our genes, that will be seasoned by experience, but deep down, it’s already there, looking for company, for someone to share itself with, and when we happen on the right piece of music, the right person, or, in this case the right artist, then, with a muscle that is as deep as ourselves, with the force of someone grabbing for a life preserver, we attach. And that’s what happened to me that day.