On the Importance of the Arts

“Art is our one true global language. It knows no nation, it favors no race, and it acknowledges no class. It speaks to our need to reveal, heal, and transform. It transcends our ordinary lives and lets us imagine and create what is possible.”

– Richard Kamler

I am accustomed to participating in Hilltopics as a copy-editor, protected behind the comfort of my computer screen and armed with an oft-annoying attitude of grammatical righteousness. However, the events of these past few weeks—especially regarding the sociocultural issues recently brought to an even deeper clarity by the election and its aftermath—are too important for me to passively sit by without offering my own social commentary.

I study music at Meadows, and the school firmly believes that one of the key components of a successful twenty-first century life in the arts centers around finding a way to get one’s art “out there” into the world—not only as a career-oriented mission, but also as one of social change. A fervent advocate of this mission, my oboe professor Erin Hannigan co-founded the non-profit event Artists for Animals, which combines music, photography, and studio art to raise money for the no-kill animal shelter Operation Kindness. A wall in her studio on campus also reads, “Art for Life’s Sake,” reminding us every day that we must use our talents to effect lasting change in the world around us.

I am often confronted (by myself, but also by others) with the question: What is the point of a career in the arts? Perhaps art can only be experienced for pleasure—which is not necessarily a negative thing in and of itself—but it provides absolutely no solution for battling oppression and subjection in the world. If I want to dedicate my life to such a mission, then a course of study in human rights or a career in social work might be a more suitable choice.

However, I can’t allow myself to be so cynical. Sure, pleasure is good. But that’s not the only reason artists do what they do. Art is necessary because really good art gets us closer, in bits and pieces, to a Truth that we can’t otherwise express. Great art reaches toward the heart of our collective experience as humans from every angle, in every language—especially those languages not expressible by mankind. For how else can we make sense of the world, if not through sensory experiences?

Why do we create art? Because we must. Because sometimes it is the only response we have to violence, to tragedy, to despair, to injustice. Art matters. Art is powerful. Just as hospitals heal broken bodies, so too can orchestras, art galleries, or poetry readings heal broken spirits. Before a youth orchestra performance of mine in high school a few years ago, the conductor expressed to my colleagues and me his mission during each performance: one day, some poor soul might stumble into the concert hall, and we have to be prepared every night to reach out and touch that person, to change his or her life for the better.

For how else can we see the clear moon on a cloudless night, or bask in the glow of the setting sun sending bouncing shadows through the leaves above us, or truly engage with a text, work of art, or piece of music in a deep way and not realize that it is our very humanity that binds us together? I encourage you to allow yourself to feel deeply—to appreciate the beauty in our shared world—and then to DO something about it. Use your passion to effect lasting change in the world around you. Think extremely deeply, work incredibly hard, discover what makes you tick—and then find a way to bring it into the community at large. Use your work as a rallying cry, as an expression of deep grief or intense elation; use your art to move people—all people—as creatures who are one and the same on this earth.

The Meadows Symphony Orchestra was challenged at the beginning of this semester by Maestro Paul Phillips to live artistic lives, every day. And I would like to extend this same challenge to all readers. Even if your profession is not one within the “traditional art” field, I encourage you to approach everyone you encounter—friends, peers, colleagues, mentors, and especially people with whom you disagree—with the same sort of awe and respect with which you would approach a famous work of art or highly-acclaimed piece of music. Look deeply within each other to find the beautiful aspects of humanity we all carry inside of us.

My friends—I challenge you to lead artistic lives. In everything that you do, for as long as you live. For in so doing, you will discover an internal sense of tolerance, a deeper appreciation of beauty, and an unconditional love for all—things this world needs now more than ever.

This article was written by Abigail Hawthorne. Click here to see more of Abby’s work.