Public Art

A colleague (that’s what you call your friends in law school, only half-seriously) and I were discussing “good classical music” the other day, and one of the points of divergence that became clear in our opinions was that, often times, the accessibility of the art limited the respect it was given.  Symphonic music scored to fit a particular film ≠ classical music, or so it goes.

I understand the point, but I think to look at it more broadly, what is the point of art?  I read recently that “[a]rt is a miraculous transmission of a unique point of view to others.”  When taken in that context, virtually anything becomes art; art is about communication.  At its base, someone’s art is only a truth, or a life, or an idea as the artist sees it.  The magic of art is finding that new paradigm that moves you in such a way that it alters your own point of view forever (in a good way, hopefully!)  The ultimate power to shape consciousness through art is why so many artists have been persecuted over the years.  From Solzhenitsyn to Mapplethorpe, these are more than silly little books or pictures.

That being said, what gives art its power?  It is what it is, paint to canvas, words to page, but does its power diminish if no one sees it?  using our definition of art as a transmission, can art really only happen when somebody is there to receive the idea?  and if so, wouldn’t it follow that the more accessible the art, the more transmissions occur?  and if more transmissions occur, wouldn’t its power to influence multiple points-of-view grow as well?  and isn’t that a good thing?

In some ways, this sacred vs. vernacular tension is as old as mankind.  Something’s prestige, as recently explained in The Social Network, depends much of the time on its exclusivity.  Should the ballets, or the symphonies, or the operas of the world remain in the veiled cloister of “high art”?  In an age of politically decimated public funding and dwindling charitable contributions, that question is on the verge of rendering itself irrelevant.  To survive, operas are taking the music to the streets, or malls, as it were, and really, isn’t that the point of art to begin with?

I know there’s some really bad stuff on the market that comes under my umbrella of art.  Nobody is going to try and equate Stephenie Meyer to James Baldwin or Michael Bay to Louis Malle.  Sometimes, though, you get a true gem, like a Macy’s in downtown Philly pausing to wonder at the majesty of operatic voices communicating one of the most accessible and overplayed pieces of all time.  And yet, moving tears of wonder at its soaring beauty.  take 5 minutes of your time to be so moved.

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About Josh Hartsell

34, 3L law student, Boren Fellow in Korea, internationalist, former ex-pat.

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