Art and Aesthetics in Action

Written by: Professor Severyn T. Bruyn

This is why aesthetics should not remain a subject for the privileged. It should be a discipline for the family in which parents and kids share their art and talk intelligently and sensitively about their work together. It should be a discipline for staff in community centers where young people paint the feelings they act out on the street. It should be a subject for corporations to advance as they offer employees time for training in human relations. It should be a discipline for churches, temples, and mosques to advance when they work on ecumenism and consider their common spirituality.

The arts tell us about ourselves in this unfolding society.

In sum, it is in our nature to paint and carve and sing and dance. It is not just for the “talented,” for the “genius” and for those with special gifts. We all have a special talent, and we all have some genius. Art is a distinct endowment, the genius given to all by our measure. It is part of our divine nature.

Now, a caveat. If we were to assume that all people are artists (“democratizing art”), we could see a downside of this movement. There is a danger in what I propose.

 If we were to view everything as a work of art, we could lose perspective. It is like saying, “everything is sacred.” It may be true that everything is sacred and that everything is a work of art, but it is also not true. This is the dilemma that is posed in the postmodern critique.

What is true is also not true.

Thus, we bring ourselves mindfully forward as artists. We should remember what an aesthetician would demand -- that fine art be judged.

Art critics say some “art” is trash. Some art is amateurish. Some art is childish. Some art is garbage and should not be made public.

We cannot forget the purpose of fine art in the development of society.

But it is time we recognize the elitism and the imperial use of fine art in the world. We can accept our limitations as we democratize art, but art has a new role to play. It is part of the revolution of a post-modern society.

Now spread the word. It is about art. The fine art resides in all of us.

In this common cause, we should not eliminate aesthetics and good judgement. A social movement to humanize art can honor the professions; indeed, this movement should broaden art appreciation and strengthen our sense of art’s power. But art also is the power of all people. It should move further into our institutions and deeper into the wellsprings of society.

So, ordinary artists like me honor great artists. We support grand exhibitions, still attend professional concerts, and admire famous art in museums. But in this perspective we change our picture of fine art. We bring what is fine close to us.

One more thing about the revolution. Art is like voting. It is our responsibility to vote (to paint, sing, drum, act, and dance) as citizens. This vote develops the power of people and our common authority. Our vote represents us.

Art is critical to the growth of postmodern society. Art now is like voting was critical to the formation of a democratic society. If we do not participate in art, we do not contribute to the development of a sharing and associative society.

A secret ballot is not required in this movement to build inner power. We make an open vote for art. We reveal this vote and take our chances. We become like naked citizens.

Finally, a revolutionary movement for art could alter the order of society. It could bring the practice of art as far into society as the practice of institutional politics and religion. Art should bring a great human presence into the work of a nation.

It should reveal more wholeness, maybe, holiness. Art is not a religion of the state. It is not a religion of the market. It is not a religion of the church, the temple or the mosque. It is within and beyond the state, the market, and religion. Art crosses swords with institutions. Art treks through the boundaries of institutions. It represents a human domain, a natural world, and our divinity.

Fine art had its day, its elitism. It supported imperial power. But now the word is out -- all people refine the art within.

Aestheticians, tell us how rubbish will be promoted in a social cause!

We take our chances. We know about the dangers in this mortal life, making art a human aspiration. We know the hazards of a common cause.

And so we keep in mind the seriousness of our movement, but lose all seriousness as well. We parody a past revolution, and paraphrase its spirit.

The privileged few have had their day.

Now, amateurs,
Awaken and
Be free.
Let us unchain our power
So we can see,
Our side of