The Artist’s Role

As I was working on my reading for my history seminar on the music of East-Central Europe in the 20th century, I came across the following quote in the context of the influence of Eastern Orthodox spirituality on Arvo Pärt:

It is not enough for art simply to register the horror or re-enact the details of our fall.  In our aesthetic imagination we have become like wounded beings crawling among the remains of our broken civilization–which Ezra Pound early in the [20th] century described as ‘botched’–clutching perhaps a single token of beauty, a line or two of poetry, a Bach prelude, a white canvas, which must now symbolize everything…

Like an ancient monastic order, we carry within us the seeds of renewal–the grain of hope–which we plant again and again after each fresh disaster, digging ever deeper into the past to re-establish only what is essential, that which alone can endure across time.  In such times (and therefore at all times) the role of the artist is the preservation of spiritual values, a role which demands exploration and sacrifice, quite as much as conservation. ~ Paul Hillier, Arvo Pärt, OUP: 1997

In the context of the horrors of the 20th and 21st centuries and the sometimes debilitating individualism of ‘post-modern’ culture, such a statement seems to reflect both the potentially dangerous preoccupations of contemporary art and music as well as the potentially healing power of hope if it were expressed among the ruins of our fallen state.   Perhaps Begbie’s and Seerveld’s call to incorporate redemption into artistic expression might be a more explicitly Christian call of this sort to spiritual responsibility in the arts.  In any case, these ideas are worth pondering, and to that end, any comments are welcome.


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