I've been confronted this week with my deep poverty of imagination and understanding on the concept of "power" as it relates to art. Part of my deep frustration with the powerlessness of which I wrote a few days ago is that I don't rightly know what the concept means as related to art, music, church music, the church itself, etc.
“You can kill people with sound.”
And so it seems to us at the blog at Sinden.org that the time is right hold a colloquium on the questions of power and art, and explore how these concepts relate to music within the liturgy of the church.
The ever helpful Maria Popova gets us started on the value of arts
This is the power of art: The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.
Wholeheartedness leads to thoughts of Brené Brown, and (artistic) vulnerability of which I expect we will have plenty to say later. Note that the title of her TED talk uses the P word: The Power of Vulnerability
Which leads us to think maybe the power of art as found in its vulnerability could really be thought of as "weakness". I'd love to unpack the paradox here, and I may later reach for a title by theologian Marva Dawn, Joy in our Weakness.
There are moments on this blog when "power", as it is connected to art, music, and the church, has already surfaced.
Here are a few:
“If we consider what sort of music we should want to hear on entering a church we should surely, in describing our ideal, say first of all that it must be something different from what is heard elsewhere; that it should be a sacred music devoted to its purpose, a music whose peace should still passion; whose dignity should strengthen our faith; whose unquestioned beauty should find a home in our hearts to cheer us in life and death. What a powerful good such music would have”.
“You can kill people with sound.”
It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct musical tradition, if your concerns are expressed through a specific paracosm, you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up in the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft boundaries, or none at all.
And these words of music critic Alex Ross, which find their way on to this blog for the first time:
“Art does not stand apart from reality; if it did, it would have no life in it, no light, no darkness, no power.”
"As If Music Could Do No Harm." The New Yorker, Cultural Comment Blog, 20 August 2014
“Art does not stand apart from reality; if it did, it would have … no power.”
As I look back over the ten year history of this blog (has it really been that long?) it seems that strands of this colloquium have been emerging for some time. I'm happy to try to collect these different strands into a more directed conversation. I am eager to see what emerges.
To bring this brief tour full circle for now, art, which Alex Ross so powerfully notes "does not stand apart from reality", has a peculiar kind of power. I believe this power is best explained by Thomas Merton summarizes when he says
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
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