Perspective: Understand Art To Learn About The World

Dec 20, 2019

Think of ballet, literature, and Goya. What comes to mind? Elitist rhetoric regarding so-called “high art” is powerful. This reality lends force to "alternative," "protest," and "people's art" of all sorts. Tolstoy describes this dichotomy in "What is Art?" Ironically, the famous novelist came to believe that "high art” lacked “naturalness,” and he rejected most literary endeavors late in life. 


This spirited grappling attested to an awareness that art is crucial for identifying and shaping a culture. So-called “high art," the basics at least, was once taught widely to the American populace, allowing a knowledge base from which it was appreciated and also protested against. But now, virtually all art in the United States, not just the privileged kind, is routinely ignored in educational environments. Despite a vigorous “underground” artistic movement, there is now a palpable mainstream prejudice against art as being “extra,” or a “subject.” 


This is yet another way that our society, with open complicity from non-elites themselves, is relinquishing its knowledge of -- and appreciation for -- essential tools through which culture and society can be understood and changed. I’m not arguing that all people should be painters or film directors. Rather, that studying art, its methods, and its influence is important. The powerful know how to animate and manipulate hearts and minds through the instruments of art and media. This power can be used for good or ill, but ignorance is never a good antidote. 


I’m Bill Gahan, and that’s my perspective.