Reimagining the World

La Bohème: Act I, “O Soave Fanciulla” (“Oh Sweet Lady”) Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert Von Karajan, Luciano Pavarotti, Mirella Freni & Rolando Panerai

Reimagining the World

Description: Rodolfo’s garret – set design for Act I of La bohème for the world premiere performance, Teatro Regio di Torino, 1 February 1893.Adolf Hohenstein

Puccini’s opera La Boheme is about “Bohemians” or the starving artists that were associated with Bohemia in the European mind of the nineteenth century. In this song Rodolfo and Mimi meet for the first time and immediately fall in love. It is a Romeo and Juliet at the ball kind of moment. It even ends with Rodolfo’s friends calling to him to come join them, as Romeo’s friends call to him when he sneaks off to court Juliet. The story ends tragically but not because of feuding families but an incurable disease. The story was recently updated and became the Broadway musical Rent. In both Rent and La Boheme the artists are outsiders and their art under appreciated.

Public schools, and perhaps private schools as well, struggle to maintain an arts program. These programs are often dismissed as non-essential to the core mission of a school. Often people think of “art-types” like the characters in La Boheme, folks who are a bit outside the mainstream and a bit odd. Science and math produce all kinds of tangible results that everyone can see but the benefits of the arts are often more subtle and difficult to put a name to. Math and science change the visible world but the changes produced by the arts are internal; the arts change the person. These changes to the individual are not always observable and where they are observable are often attributed to other things.

There was a review in the New York Times Book Review section on a study of the role of art in human evolution. The book is called The Descent of Taste. When I saw the title of the book being reviewed I thought it suggested a study of how taste in art has declined over the years. I anticipated a book that charted a decline in artistic sensibility that compared the music of Bach to John Cage or the paintings of Rembrandt to those of Jackson Pollack. There are many in the art community that do not care for the direction the arts have taken in modern times and I thought this was another book written by “one of those people.” But when I read the review I found that it was about something else, the role the arts have played in human evolutionary development. The title refers to an instinct for art that resides in us all that has descended down to us from our earliest ancestors.

Lascaux Cave Painting

The painting is from a cave in France and was painted many thousands of years ago. It suggests that art, the desire to capture some aspect of the world around us, has been a part of human experience for a very long time. The book contends that the urge to create art goes back about a million and a half years. The book also suggests that this urge to create is a part of what separated humans from the rest of the creatures with whom they cohabitated. There is also the suggestion that skill at creating art made a person more desirable to one of the opposite sex, and perhaps this played a role in the evolution of the “art instinct.”

Saint George and the DragonRaphael Sanzio

As artists became more skilled at capturing the world around them the pictures they painted, as well as the sculptures they sculpted, became more lifelike. But is it the ability to capture the world as it is that makes a work of art, “art”? In this painting by Raphael the horse and the knight on the horse are real, the woman in the background is real, but what about the dragon? Is the dragon intended to capture a slice of the real world or is it more allegorical or symbolic? Perhaps it captures the world the way the painter believed the world to be once upon a time.

G. K. Chesterton once said, “Art exists solely in order to create a miniature universe, a working model of the universe, a toy universe, which we can play with as a child plays with a toy theater.” Does this view of art require art to be representational? Perhaps, but then as a novelist Chesterton often wrote novels that portrayed a world that was in many ways dissimilar from the world in which we live. In the novel The Man Who Was Thursday, for example, there are events no one would expect to find taking place in the real world, the premise of the novel is hardly realistic, and there are characters it is safe to say no one is likely to meet on the streets, then or now. But then the novel is satire and satire often plays by a different set of rules.

Cafe Terrace at NightVincent Van Gogh

Perhaps the first question that must be asked is what does the universe look like and does the universe the artist creates have to resemble the universe in which the artist lives? Van Gogh’s painting is recognizable as a café on a town street with people milling about. But though it resembles cafes we all have seen it does not look exactly like any café we are likely to see, even if we went to the street in Arles where this café could be found. Still, in the words of Chesterton a universe is created and Van Gogh seems to enjoy playing with that toy universe. But more importantly I am changed by looking at the painting. I do not know if a photograph digitized on a blog page moves the viewer, but seeing the actual painting does, or at least it did move me.

The colors of this painting when seen on the actual canvas have a “something” that the picture on the blog page does not. I do know if the right word is vibrancy, energy, or something else, I do not really believe there is a word for it. Real art often escapes language. A photograph of a great painting often makes the painting look more like an illustration; something designed to lend some color to the page. There are painters who work for interior designers whose sole job has become creating a canvas with colors that match the design of the room in which it will hang. The painter probably sees her or himself as an artist but does that make the person an artist.

I was once walking down Lakeshore Drive in Chicago and I was stopped by an elderly man. He pointed to an office building (I was on a section of Lakeshore Drive that bordered on the business district of Chicago) and said he started his career working in that office building. He started talking about his career as an artist. He said that he began as a commercial artist in the office building that we were facing. He said that at one time he did a portrait of the Duke of Windsor. He was an elegantly dressed man and his dress suggested he had been successful in whatever had been his career, so it was not impossible that he painted the Duke of Windsor, but I am not sure that it was likely. But if he had painted the Duke, would that make him an artist? Is it enough to capture faithfully an image?

No._5,_1948, An abstract painting by Jackson Pollock, taken from Art Market,_1948.jpg

This painting by Jackson Pollack is not at all representational. There is depth and texture to it. It conveys an energy and movement, but what is there about the canvas that causes some to see it as a great work of art? Why are some people moved by this painting in the same way that I was moved by the Van Gogh when I saw it on a museum wall? W. H. Auden wrote a narrative poem about the same time that this painting was painted called The Age of Anxiety. The poem characterized the modern world of its time. It was an anxious time. A war had just ended and people lived in fear of another war, a nuclear war. The painting and the poem both evoke a time of uncertainty especially about the future.

But to return to the original question, why study art, why make art a part of a school’s curriculum when there are so many more important things to study. Does art and the appreciation of art make people more humane? Probably not. The Nazis loved great art, but were also capable of great cruelty. Nor are the Nazis unique in this regard, history tells of many others. If art does not make us better people, than what does it do?

Art does train the imagination and art does reflect back to us the world in which we live. The paintings on the cave in France, the paintings by Raphael, the paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, and the paintings of Jackson Pollack all reflect back to people the world of their unique time in history. They were Chestertonian toy universes that re-imagine the universe in which the artists that painted them lived. Raphael lived in an orderly world, if not in fact at least in the popular imagination. Jackson Pollack at the other extreme lived in a world where order seemed to be collapsing.

Kenneth Clark Civilisation

Kenneth Clarke’s television series Civilisation (Mr. Clarke could spell, he just spelled as an Englishman) was very popular about the time I graduated high school. At the beginning of the film he talks about there being three books in which a civilization records itself, its history, its words, and its art. There are not many who know the names of those that reigned when Raphael painted or when Van Gogh painted. If we remember who ruled when Pollack painted it is probably because it is still recent history and it is our history which most spend a year or more of their lives studying. It is perhaps too early to tell whether or not we want to be remembered by the things that our leaders have done or by the things our artists have produced.

The Getty Museum carved out of a hillside of Los Angeles, as a museum provides a resting place for the art that has characterized the world’s civilizations but it also stands as a statement of the architectural art of our generation. The music of The Beatles, John Adams, and John Harbison will probably have more to say about how the present age is viewed in the future than any of the leaders that have led the nations of the world in our time. The science of Dante’s time has for the most part been forgotten (though the science of that day was instrumental in producing the science of our day), but Dante is still with us.

I do not know if there is a satisfactory answer to why we should study art as fervently as we study science and math but it is very likely that the art we produced will play at least as significant a role in defining who we are as a people to future generations as any of our scientific advances. Artists often look funny to the rest of the culture and often believe odd things. But what is to be said of a culture that can put a machine on the planet Mars that will take photographs of the Martian surface and test the Martian geology that cannot appreciate the sublime nature of that stark Martian landscape and does not know how to make a song about it.

What does it say about a culture that does not see the need to train its youth to understand and appreciate the sublime; to develop the eye of the imagination as diligently as it cultivates the practice of the scientific method? It is the artist in us that must be cultivated that can imagine more to Mars than reddish dust. This realization may not stop us from exploiting the resources of Mars, but it may encourage us to feel, like the Walrus, badly about what we do and that is a good thing. But even if it doesn’t the realization will remain with many that it is a beautiful thing that has been destroyed.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

22 thoughts on “Reimagining the World

  1. I agree that the art program in many schools today is often seen as non-essential. In elementary and middle school, art class was required to be taken by every student. Now in high school, art is optional. I agree that people sometimes think of “art-types” as people who are a bit odd. I have seen this stereotype before in movies.
    It’s true that as artists over the years became more skilled in art and capturing the world around them to be more lifelike. But I think that the things it captures is symbolic and each aspect of the painting or work of art represents something, or there is a deeper meaning than what meets the eye. Art can be interpreted in different ways to different people and can mean different things.

  2. The arts programs in our public schools are suffering and as a result, students who would like a career in the liberal arts are at a disadvantage. As a musician and hopefully a future music educator, I am greatly concerned with the arts in our public schools. I actually considered attending Walnut Hill (a private school for musicians and other artists on Cape Cod) but I weighed my options and decided that it was too early to specialize in case I changed mentality through high school. If only we could take that special attention to the arts and translate it into our school system without the fierce competition and cost. I also believe that being creative and artistic help your mind to think in creative ways that can help you in your other academic subjects, and so a strong and centered arts and music program in any school should be seen as essential. I think that art is a wonderful thing and that it should be encouraged and strengthened in our school systems.

  3. I agree that the art programs are diminishing in public and private schools. There have been recent advertisements trying to save the arts programs. People are starting to belive that the art programs are no longer needed in schools, so when they need to cut things to help save money, the art programs are the first to go. In my opinion, the art programs are very beneficial. They help kids to express themselves in ways most people cannot and help them learn what their special talents are if they have any. It is a creative way to get kids to express how they are feeling and to show how well they do in the arts.

  4. I agree with the authors saying that “Real art often escapes language.” That is also what saying “one picture says more than thousand words” comes from. The universe the artist creates doesn’t have to resemble the real world. A painting like that shows us the way the artist say something, the things he connected with his seeing, and the way he brought the colors in his final work. The audience that sees a painting sees than just the painting, not the reality, and so they analyse just the painting, get another aspect of it, often even another aspect as the painter painted it and the reality is. In conclusion I would say that painting like that von Van Gogh, that are “out of our universum” on one hand distort the reality, but on the other hand expand our thinking and creativity.

  5. The most beautiful thing about art is that its difficult and mysterious. Im not saying science and math aren’t difficult but they have facts and rules to back them up but art doesnt. Art is a form of communication from the past to the future. Art is considered art because it shows the world as one person sees it. This might cause other people to take another look at their surroundings. Real art is something you get completely lost ion not just something you look at and think o thats pretty. Art makes people aware of the things they missed when they were too busy looking. Eventually without art people will become boring and just rely on facts.

  6. I think it has become quite obvious (at least from glancing quickly at the prior comments) that the art programs in publich schools are diminishing. I feel as though careers in most art forms (whether it be a painter, photographer, or actor) are often viewed as near unrealistic, in that these careers can will ‘most likely be’ undependable or unstable. A person with a career in the science field however, could reach some level of dependacy from their salary. In fact, artists do not usually recieve a salary (unless they have some sort of special contract). Perhaps this is the reasoning behind a school’s decision to let an arts program be the first to go when the budget is tight…
    Another thing that I thought of is the ideals of a student from a college perspective. Guidance counselours seem to most often suggest what a “good” four-year college would want to see on a high school applicants transcript and this usually includes a bunch of science and math classes.
    Yet this all changes when a “good” art college is brought into the picture. In fact, it becomes even more critical for a student interested in pursuing a career in art to prepare for college early because art schools require a portfolio. A student in a school that is lacking in the art department is usually at a disadvantage when it comes to this, whereas the science major student can be considered at a regular pace (does that make sense?).
    I also feel as though art is often overlooked in our society. Though industrial designers may not necessarily be considered artists, I believe that they are. They must visually convey an idea, and later bring that idea to 3d form, but they are restricted to the functionality (is that a word?) of a product due to the use of everyday people. This is how all of our products are made! Ind. Designers must take into account the demands of the average citizen to the limitations of the engineer or architecht in order to create an effective piece. I think that this portion is usually under appreciated and overlooked. Many people (such as industrial designers, engineers, and architechts) work together in a sense, to make the world go round.

  7. I agree that a good program to prepare a student for college depends on what the student wants to do in college. I agree that industrial designers are artists. There was an exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Art a few years ago of old automobiles that showcased the artistry of their design and before that a similar exhibit of guitars. And yes, functionality is a word.

    J. D. Wilson, Jr.

  8. Arts are an important asset to all. The arts program at Wareham was recently cut at the middle school, and will eventually probably affect the rest of the school system, and it isn’t right. To me, music is an outlet for frustrations and its something i plan on pursuing, in fact, I plan on pursuing music education/performance, because its what I love to do.

    “But if he had painted the Duke, would that make him an artist? Is it enough to capture faithfully an image? ”

    To me, capturing the image isn’t art. You have to capture the emotions of the moment, happiness, anger, whatever the subject is feeling, and if the subject is something else, a landscape, or a still life, or even an impressionist painting, it should have some sort of reason behind it. I believe that to be a true artist, you need to dig deep within yourself and draw out your emotions, and whether you’re a musician, sculptor, or an author, you need to convey your emotions and allow the spectator the chance to appreciate exactly what went into creating your masterpiece. Without emotion, art isn’t art, its merely a painting, music is just notes, and a book is just words. But that’s just my opinion.

    “If art does not make us better people, than what does it do?”

    Art allows us the chance to become better people, but free will gives us the power to choose how we act and what we become.

  9. Imagine there’s no Heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    No religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace

    You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world

    After thinking of the title “Reimagining the World” I feel this song quote has the jist of the blog title.

  10. I think the song talks about what artists do and what artists encourage others to do. Not all may agree with every detail of the song, but that is not the point, the point is to imagine a world that has something of our own stamp upon it.

    J. D. Wilson, Jr.

  11. I have definitely noticed that as you grow older, art becomes less necessary and, for me, has almost completely disappeared from my class schedule. But at the same time, I feel that art impacts everyone. It’s very important to have your own view and to see beauty in things that sometimes don’t seem beautiful, and art helps develop that. I also feel that even without taking a specific art class you can still experience art everywhere, just by going outside or observing anything.

  12. There are alot of questions when dealing with art. And it is also very important. It gives an insight into the culture of life and to the emotions that people feel. Art is composed of many different things, not just based on the world around the artist. I feel that the dragon is symbolic to something in the real world. But as it is, it is not real. Art can be representational, but it doesn’t always have to be. Like in the first question posed about Cafe Terrace at Night Vincent Van Gogh. A work of art can resemble where the artist lives in the universe or not. It is the artist’s choice after all what is created when they are at work. In a way, everyone is an artist to some degree. A mother considers her child an artist at a young age due to the “works of art” they they create. And they may be works of art to the child as they grow older, depending on how passionate about them they are and if they continue to display their artisitc ability as they grow up. Art helps people to express their feelings. Or it could be something that they like to do, or create. Maybe to change how other people feel, and to get them thinking about what the artist could be trying to say. Art makes people think, whether the work of art be a scribble done by a child, or graffitti done by a teenager. What you see will make you think about why it was done, who did it, and maybe what caused that person to create it in the first place. How they were feeling, possibly. As far as the graffitti goes, it could have just been a fiirst try thing to see if they were good at it, or to cause some damage. But most graffitti has a message behind it, in my opinion. And depending on who you are, you will portray that message entirely the same or different than the person that looked at it before you.

  13. Art is becoming viewed less and less as an important class to expose students to. Every day they decide to cancel art and other elective/art related classes from schools around the country. I think that art however should be a required class. Art gives a person a different view on things to help that person become someone unique rather than a follower of the masses. In academic classes students learn structure and how to form an answer in a strict formal way. Whether its an essay in english class or a lab in science class there is a format that makes all those who are writing it forced into creating a similar end project. Being exposed to art teaches students, especially when taught at a young age, how to think outside the box and be their own person. Because of this thought though, many adults feel that offering art classes at higher grade levels is unnecessary. I disagree with this belief. As you grow older and mature into the person you will be when you leave school, I think it is beneficial to be exposed to as many things and views as you can to become a well-rounded person. By doing this you allow yourself to experience more things and be able to relate to others easily. Personally, art and other creative classes allow me to express who I am and my feelings in a more personal way, and because of this I find it easier to grow and realize things about myself.

  14. There are many that consider graffiti an art form and I have seen some that are pretty impressive. I suppose the problem is that the canvas upon which the graffiti is painted may not be regarded as a proper venue by the person that owns the “canvas”. I agree that art can take many forms and need not be representational and is largely a judgment made by individuals.

    J. D.

  15. I agree that art and music classes are important to a school’s curriculum and need to be protected. I also agree that some form of fine arts schooling should be a part of every student’s program.

    J. D. Wilson, Jr.

  16. The world seems to be focussing on the sciences and math because technology is a new frontier, however, it is unfortunate that as a result the arts are becoming more and more neglected. if not for personal interest, then it is at least necessary to preserve education in the arts to shape how we think and help us to be creative when exploring advancements in technology. I completely agree with you that although math and science shape the world as a whole, the arts affect the individuals who developed the concepts and invented the tools that the world enjoys. In order for a world to continue to explore new frontiers there has to be a balance of expanding creativity and imagination. and that only lies within the arts.

  17. I agree when you were talking about how in public schools struggle to maintain an arts program. In our highschool they just have basic art classes and a ceramic class. It doesnt have anything that expands what artisits could do. When your in elementary school you had to take an art class. For me when i was younger i was all about drawing and creating self portraits, talking, models out of magazines and drawign them. When i came into middle school they didn’t really have art class so i lost my love to draw, when i came into high school you have to sign up for it and if you dont get in thats it. i think that if they had more things in school that contained to an arts program i wouldnt feel the way i do about drawing now. I think that all schools should have an art program, schools have other programs in science, or math why not art. I feel like they are restircting students minds on what they should like or be interested in.

  18. I think that art is very important to everyone. I believe that it boosts everyone’s creative side. “The painting is from a cave in France and was painted many thousands of years ago. It suggests that art, the desire to capture some aspect of the world around us, has been a part of human experience for a very long time.” Art has always been around us, artists capture what the world was and looked like to them. I believe this helps people visualize how the world was and how it has changed. I think that art helps you look at things differently, and not too logically.

  19. The aspects of this blog are interesting to me. On the subject of art i have found that it takes a certain patience to understand a lot of art. Many people only use their eyes when evaluating art but, often times there is much more which needs to be read into. Similar to a poem, there are reasons behind why colors and shapes are used just as there are reasons why poets use certain words and rhythms. The artist constructs their work to evoke specific emotions. Art is an important part of life though I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we should “study art as fervently as we study science and math…”. Art is a type of unwritten story and is useful in understanding a time, person or place in history.

  20. What used to be a subject so imporant to the student life, art now seems to be throw to the side. I can remember in elementary and even junior high school art was a necessary course that was required of each and every student. Yes, it is true that only a handful of us were gifted enough to actually create, art still helped those less fortunate to express themselves. Now in high school art has disappeared and is offered as only an elective. Today it is hard to fit art into the busy schedule each individual has. However, art is all around us. It is the nature outside the classroom or the scribbles on the desk where we sit. Art is anything that helps to express.
    I also feel that art takes on a different meaning for eveyone. It takes patience and time to look at a piece of work and discover what ot means to you. MAny times art takes on totally diverse meanings. This forgotten subject allows us to explore our creative side and release emotions that have been begging to be let out.

  21. I find it unfortunate that now being in high school art is no longer a mandatory elective. In both middle school and elementary school i enjoyed art very much. I felt that through art I was able to perceive things unlike before, using a whole different side of my brain. It was much different from all my other classes and for me it offered somewhat of a challenge. I know that to be a good artist you must truly be gifted. Even years of practice will not make you a good artist, it is just a talent that some people are just born with. Despite my lack of skill in the field of art I felt that it was extremely beneficial. Art allows you to express what you are feeling and for some people it also allows them to let out certain emotions. I feel that art makes one healthier because they are able to release some of what they keep bottled up inside.
    I also feel that art can be found just about anywhere and is extremely important to culture. When looking at a piece of work one can discover all sorts of meanings. Everyone has their own beliefs on what is art and its significance. To one person it may represent one thing and to another it may represent something completely different. I feel that people can look upon art as inspiration in life and at the same time it admits them to use their imagination.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *