In Defense of the Arts by Hal O’Leary

In Defense of the Arts by Hal O’Leary

In Defense of the Arts by Hal O’Leary. Today, another deep article in the weekly section on Yareah magazine: Just Hal!


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Just as the arts define a social culture, the lack of art suggests a lack of culture. There are myriads of definitions, purposes and forms for art, but for the purpose of this article, I would ask that we consider art not as an action or an object, but as a creation which can bring balance, meaning and beauty to life. I would ask that we consider culture as a measure of what it means to be human. Humanity is the only form of life capable of creating art that goes beyond any utility. It is therefore through our art that we are defined as being human. As human beings, cursed or blessed with a self-awareness that brings us into confrontation with the mystery of our very existence, we find ourselves in a most uncomfortable situation: we are by nature bound to question our why and wherefore. In my attempts to do so, I have come to the conclusion that it is only through the arts that we are afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. Not to question only adds to the angst and insecurity we seek to overcome with other less than satisfactory means. Not to question prevents us from becoming truly human. This being the case, one would think the inquisitive human mind would drive us to a veritable obsession with the arts. But such is not the case. That other less than satisfactory means is our cultural obsession with material gain that has relegated the arts to a periphery at best.

While it is generally accepted that there are two sides to any argument, may I suggest that in the current society the argument relating to the value and purpose of the arts takes on a third side. The question for debate then becomes whether or not art as such has any real value or purpose. Caught, on the one side, between the ranting of a religious right wing conservative party that would do away with all administrative funding for the arts, assuming them to be both frivolous and superfluous, and on the other hand the political machinations of a liberal left who would make a travesty of the arts in their efforts to politicize them, is the third side, whose position was best stated on a bumper sticker proudly displayed on a pick-up truck which read, “The arts are not a luxury. They are a necessity.” This side faces a continual struggle for survival.

Ironically, the battle being waged is between two of the sides, neither of which has any understanding of or an appreciation for the arts. The thought of the arts as a product of disciplined and creative minds advancing luster and emotional well-being to our lives is completely foreign to those of the religious/conservative right. In fact, in many respects, the liberality of artistic thinking may represent an actual threat to questionable moral convictions they often hold. On the political left–motivated, all too often, by anger–we have those who, under the guise of art, produce an array of often offensive and manipulative works under the banner of multiculturalism or political correctness whose purpose is not to enlighten but obfuscate.

Should the right prevail, they would extinguish the light of aesthetic creativity. The whole concept of beauty for the sake of beauty would be endangered. Man would be reduced to the materialistic level of the animal world. The result can be seen, even today, with the greed that surpasses need in a capitalistic society whose only criteria for success is the accumulation of material wealth. The extreme left, with its rancor, would clamor for multiculturalism, which in reality pits one sect or race against another, as opposed to the universal need for a human unanimity of purpose to be found in the arts.

There is no greater threat to a pluralistic society than these two warring factions who, in the arrogance of their ignorance would subvert and ultimately destroy any ability we might have to live harmoniously together. Without a universal understanding of our human condition, continually rediscovered through the arts, we could be splintered into any number of self-serving races, genders, sects, ethnic enclaves or ideologies. We need the arts, and we need a better understanding of what constitutes art as defined above, an internal appreciation of the balance and beauty in life. The purpose of art thus defined is not to preach old truths but to open the doors to new truths. The purpose of art is not to indict injustice but to help us understand the causes of injustice.

Have no fear; the arts will survive. Their demise has been predicted over and over again, but we could once more lose countless generations to the ignorance and stagnation that beset the human race during the Dark Ages. Only our enlightened voices speaking loud and clear can counter the alienation and depression that is certain to follow with a continuation of our present trend toward cultural deprivation.

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Hal O’Leary is an eighty-seven-year-old Secular Humanist who believes that it is only through the arts that one is afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

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