Art and Aesthetics in Action

Written by: Professor Severyn T. Bruyn

Modernism means other things for contemporary scholars. Educators speak of the effects of departmentalization and professionalism on students in the university. Students in liberal arts are taught to be experts and professionals. Students are no longer taught as whole persons. Educators speak of the alienation of students and faculty in their separate university disciplines.

Faculties in science do not talk with faculties in the humanities and the arts. There is no basis from which to dialogue across departments, no opportunity to discuss together the problems of society. There is no real academic community, no common tongue, and no basis for initiating a conversation about the direction of life in society.

The list of problems that come with modernity is long and not our subject to examine here, but let me finish my point. 

The political emancipation that began with all the revolutions of the past two centuries continues, but it shifts markedly now toward the spread of democracy in society. This includes the expansion of art in education, religion, family, politics, in every corner of life. The new revolution is still political but it is also increasingly nonpolitical.

I am saying that we should unchain this power of art, release the majesty and beauty in ourselves. Artwork should cast light into the dark places, embody sealed images in ways that reconstruct life. The museums that we enter should not be our version of the glorious castles, which peasants entered with veneration and awe. We should see that majesty in ourselves.

When untrained people paint a picture, or sing a song or write a poem, we call them amateurs. The amateurs then say in our culture of modernity, “we do art for fun” or for “therapy.”

Yes, we do, but such comments are also nonsense, a put down. By narrowing the purpose of this living art to merely “fun” and limiting its purpose to “therapy,” we dismiss the greatness it draws forth. We ignore the glory in our own soul that joins the world.

Our emancipation means making what we see to be extraordinary in the concert hall as an extraordinary in our lives.

Music for People (MfP) is a grass-roots organization dedicated to re-vitalizing music making and it is for all groups of every age, gender, race, and class. They promote music among the untrained in spectacular ways. People who have never played an instrument before in their lives learn to play incredible music together. The members of MfP believe that improvisational music can be a joy for everyone, and a critical part of everyday life.

We forget that there is an art in our walk and in all our talk. There is an art in the way we see, hear, and touch. There is an art in the way we conduct government. There is an art in the way we organize society.

Art should spark a revolution for moving beyond the excesses in modernity, consumerism, professionalism, departmentalization, and bureaucracy.

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