Art and Aesthetics in Action

Written by: Professor Severyn T. Bruyn

Let me propose a perspective on art as a social movement that goes beyond adult education. This view helps explain the rendering of my own work.

A Perspective on Art: A Public Movement

Art begins as a refinement of human experience. I mean everybody’s experience, not just a few who become initiated and anointed. The excellence in a work of art is associated with social development. Art belongs to the whole community.

Art is not simply a profession that stands apart from us. The art professions are vital to society and there is great need to train people in the fine arts. But a promotion of the fine arts should not keep anyone from practicing an art in daily life. This is the point.

Art is not just for skilled musicians, trained sculptors, educated poets, and experienced painters. It is our human inheritance, part of continuing education. We are all just beginning to learn about what it means to be an artist. The study and practice of art belongs to all classes.

We think of the “fine arts” as part of “high society.” We celebrate the paintings of Rembrandt and the music of Mozart in places of privilege. And we forget about our power to produce art. We forget how it is part of our own development. Art allows everyone to objectify pain, express zest, declare joy, announce grief and proclaim wonder.

Magnificent art that is lodged in museums cannot substitute for this work. The celebrated and the famous cannot represent us. If this were so, they would be like kings in the days of feudalism and we would be like peasants.

In feudalism, the peasants often admired, envied, and hated the king, yet, submitted to him. They submerged themselves in all his glory, and forgot about their own glory. It took a revolution to change that order of society.

If we give this great resource away to the privileged few, as though the powers of art were separate from ourselves, we are in trouble. If we assign art only to the most eminent, and exhibit art in only special places like museums, we will exclude our personal connection with it. We forget about our own precious endowment and our need for liberation.

We all need liberation from modernism.

Modernism (or the features and beliefs of modernity) is a complex subject, which lingers with us whenever we examine the role of art in society, but here I can be suggestive of what it means.

Modernism for Max Weber (“Science as a Vocation” [1918]) is the growth of “instrumental rationalism” and the pursuit of material things that comes with capitalism. It has also meant a “disenchantment of the world” and an “iron cage” of bureaucracy and alienation.

Emancipation from modernism means going beyond this type of reasoning. The promotion of art should challenge the idea that our “well being” is based mainly on material things; it should challenge consumerism. The promotion of art should involve a new enchantment, losing the excess on logic. And the arts should treat the problem of alienation. They should play a big role in building a sense of community.

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