As in 2016, we close our 2017 navigations with a few words that bear repeating, offered by composer John Luther Adams in his 2003 essay, Global Warming and Art. Emphasis in bold added by DP.
What does global climate change mean for art? What is the value of art in a world on the verge of melting?
An Orkney Island fiddler once observed: “Art must be of use.” By counterpoint, John Cage said: “Only what one person alone understands helps all of us.”
Is art an esoteric luxury? Do the dreams and visions of art still matter?
An artist lives between two worlds – the world we inhabit and the world we imagine. Like surgeons or teachers, carpenters or truck drivers, artists are both workers and citizens. As citizens, we can vote. We can write letters to our elected officials and to the editors of our newspapers. We can speak out. We can run for office. We can march in demonstrations. We can pray.
Ultimately though, the best thing artists can do is to create art: to compose, to paint, to write, to dance, to sing. Art is our first obligation to ourselves and our children, to our communities and our world. Art is our work. An essential part of that work is to see new visions and to give voice to new truths.
Art is not self-indulgence. It is not an aesthetic or an intellectual pursuit. Art is a spiritual aspiration and discipline. It is an act of faith. In the midst of the darkness that seems to be descending all around us, art is a vital testament to the best qualities of the human spirit. As it has throughout history, art expresses our belief that there will be a future for humanity. It gives voice and substance to hope. Our courage for the present and our hope for the future lie in that place in the human spirit that finds solace and renewal in art.
Art embraces beauty. But beauty is not the object of art, it’s merely a by-product. The object of art is truth. That which is true is that which is whole. In a time when human consciousness has become dangerously fragmented, art helps us recover wholeness. In a world devoted to material wealth, art connects us to the qualitative and the immaterial. In a world addicted to consumption and power, art celebrates emptiness and surrender. In a world accelerating to greater and greater speed, art reminds us of the timeless.
In the presence of war, terrorism and looming environmental disaster, artists can no longer afford the facile games of post-modernist irony. We may choose to speak directly to world events or we may work at some distance removed from them. But whatever our subject, whatever our medium, artists must commit ourselves to the discipline of art with the depth of our being. To be worthy of a life’s devotion, art must be our best gift to a troubled world.
And finally, a link to Adams’ composition, Under the Ice:
Onwards to 2018……