Why the arts?

A while back a friend of mine sent this quote from Cott Mail:

… the culture as a whole is in need of repair, serious repair, and the arts are one of the few ways we have to fix things.  … [Our culture] decided not to care as much about the things we hold truly in common — our cultural heritage, the natural world.  The arts aren’t elitist.  They are the opposite of elitist. They work on everyone.  We push arts organizations into a tiny corner of the culture, and we say, you are isolated from us, and then we turn away, as though it wasn’t our doing in the first place.  My only suggestion to the arts organizations?  Fight your way out of the corner and land your best punches.

I’ve been thinking about that for quite a while!

What are the first things that get cut when budgets get tight? You’re right…it’s arts programs. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a school situation, a local community, or even state or federal government. The arts are somehow seen as “frills”–nice add-ons that we can somehow do without.

Obviously I disagree. But not just because I’m an organist.

The arts–whichever form they take, whether music, visual arts, drama–provide ways in which we can connect with each other, connect with our souls, make sense out of what sometimes seems to make no sense. There’s a reason composers sometimes write pieces they title “Songs without Words”…. When we can’t find the words to express our pain or our joy, sometimes simply the music does that for us.

I remember years ago sitting in a practice hall, listening to a young man in one of the rooms. He had just received word that he was being drafted–and would be going to Vietnam. He was a talented pianist–and for about half an hour, he played his anger, his fears…and we who were listening heard and understood what he could not put into words.

At one point in my life, I had been given a decision that was emotionally devastating, that felt like a repudiation of everything I had spent my life in preparation. There were no words I could find, not even in prayer. I found myself in a chapel with the lights off–because I didn’t want anyone else around–sitting at the piano and playing my prayer. The music was at times savage…at times agonizing…and ultimately finding a place of peace.

There are some things in the arts world that I look at–or listen to–and go “Huh??” But there are many, many more that express for many of us…for all of us…concerns and issues that all humans deal with. We all deal with rejection, love, death, war, peace…and those are all themes that can be found in works of art, whether they are opera, orchestra pieces, ballet, paintings, dramas…

The arts can draw us together, can help us find those issues we have in common, can help us find ways to express what we didn’t think anyone could express.

God help us if we ever decide to try to completely do away with the arts–because in doing so, we would have lost our souls.

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