Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The axe to pick at the frozen regions of the heart...

Yesterday, Amy and I were on the noon show of our local ABC affiliate, WVEC, to promote the upcoming Chorale concerts that have been the source of my last several posts. Near the top of the hour, they covered the local protests by a notorious Baptist church from Kansas that hates everyone: Jews, GLBT's, teenagers, and soldiers.

We joked with the anchor that our concert would probably incite protests since it is a diverse program of music by women composers (assuming feminism and globalism are also hated by this church's god, as all of the above categories allegedly are).

Later, it gave me pause to reflect on the idea (from Auden?) that ALL art is political. And if the freely created work transcends the confines of partisanship, by its very existence, "art" makes a statement. The creative act itself--some thing out of nothing, something new, something original that did not heretofore exist--is audacious, bold, and daring.

And the creative act, even in its assertiveness, is affirmative (aren't all offspring loved, one way or another?!?). Seriously, even when the created work's subject is "against" or "opposed to" something--oppression, violence, poverty, strife--it is, by its very nature, FOR life...

To return briefly to the idea of art as political (again, I dislike that association because of the limiting nature of its current applications), I am reminded of Kafka and Hugo. My loose paraphrase of Kafka's famous dictum is the observation that one of the functions of art is "to be the axe to pick at the frozen regions of the heart." I have seen Hugo's popular bon mot in several different places recently, from VA to NYC: "Music expresses that which cannot be said and cannot be suppressed."

I have long felt the provocative nature of art to be one of its most distinguishing and vital features. From the conscious-jolting realism of Renaissance art by Caravaggio & Michelangelo, from "disturbing" images by Bosch to Beckmann, to works of memory like Picasso's Guernica, art is provocative.

And just like the term "politics," the word "provocative" (along with words like "liberal" and "progressive") has become too lopsidedly weighted with the baggage of contemporary usage that is blinded by partisanship.

The provocation cited by Hugo and Kafka is not gratuitous. Such provocativeness is neither controversial nor rebellious simply for the sake of being so. Art is provocative in healthful ways. Our humanity requires that our consciousness be checked--that the pulse of our heart's strings be taken from time to time. We deceive each other and ourselves if we think otherwise about such "conscious check-ups." There are times we need the arts to help bring out the best in us: sometimes we need them to just keep us honest.

Robert Shaw often repeated how vital the arts are to human existence: to cultural, social (and emotional/spiritual/political!) well-being. "The arts are not a luxury but a necessity" has been taken up as often as Hugo's dictum. And sadly, our times remind us that these tried-and-true sayings will continue to be true, and even more so whenever the times are trying for the arts.

A program devoted solely to women in music (in conjunction with the first ever state-wide focus of women's contributions to the arts), by its singular nature alone, is a reminder that such focus is crucial and will be so until the adjectives that categorize and label it are no longer necessary (ie: Women- African- GLBTQ-). As the ancient chinese proverb says "it is better to light one candle than curse the darkness."

This weekend the Chorale and friends will be lighting 14 candles of creativity by nearly 1,000-year-worth of music by women. We can't afford to curse the darkness, and as Emily Dickinson wrote, we "had no time to hate." We will be sharing a beautifully provocative program, and can't wait to sing these songs into being.

1 comment:

Scott Marler said...

This is an eloquent and beautiful post. Couldn't agree more with your thoughts on the transcendent nature of music.