Artists are the Vanguard of Culture
Here’s another section from my upcoming book, Soulforce Arts: The Vital Role of Musicians & Other Artists In A World That’s Lost Its Mind. It’s from Chapter 1, wherein I address what artists can do to make a difference. Let me know what you think!
If the ideas here speak to you, please join my next “Interbeing for Musicians & Artists” class on Tuesday 9/13 from 12-1:30PM EST. Contact me for details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Artists Are the Vanguard of Culture
“The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands.”
I believe the role of musicians and other artists is to imagine and express the vanguard of culture, constantly reaching into new potentialities and reflecting the new realities, perspectives, and ways of being that exemplify each era of human society. When we dream these new realities into being, we manifest the collective imagination of the society at large so that the society can grow, evolve, and adapt to ever-changing conditions in the world.
Artists have played this vital role throughout human history, helping people come to grips with the new ways of being called for by all of the great historical transitions, from the Agricultural Revolution, to the Scientific Revolution, to the many simultaneous revolutions that comprise our own Information Age. During each transition period, artists evoked and expressed certain states of mind and qualities of being that helped their societies evolve into the next, higher-order ways of being that were necessary for overcoming the seemingly-intractable problems of the previous era.
For example, the use of perspective in visual art during the European Renaissance was both a result of, and further inspiration for, the Scientific Revolution that valued objectivity over symbolism and religious dogma. Just imagine what it must have been like for someone encountering true perspective for the first time: throughout your whole life you’ve only seen drawings in the flattened aspect (like those in religious icons) and then you suddenly come across true perspective (like that perfected by Leonardo DaVinci). What might this do to your mind? What else might become possible once you experienced this?
Two representations of the Last Supper: one from early Christian fresco, and Leonardo DaVinci’s “Last Supper.” Notice the difference in the sense of space between these two paintings—what affect does each have on your mind?
Similarly, in music, the near-incomprehensibility and often-unpleasant-sounding atonal music that developed during the 20th century was a reflection of the increasing complexity, incomprehensibility, and tragedy that unfolded in that era. How might this music have helped the people of the 20th century come to grips with a world that no longer made sense? What might it do to someone who was otherwise still stuck in 19th-century ways of being?
It is obvious to many of us that human society is now in the midst of a major epochal shift, one stimulus (and result) of which is the climate crisis. The major aggravating factor of the climate crisis as a whole is that very few people have really grokked its full scale and implications. So many of us are still locked in 19th- and 20th-century ways of being, unable to see that the Earth is a living being upon whose well-being we utterly depend for our survival. Thus, we continue our old, extractive ways of being, relatively oblivious to the coming catastrophes that are largely a result of our actions.
From this perspective, the role of artists and musicians right now is urgent and vital. Our job, our task, our sacred duty is to reach into the future, to call forth the ways of being that will help humanity and the Earth as a whole survive and thrive during this transitionary period. We do this best when we embody these new ways of being in ourselves so that our art, and our lives as a whole, transmit the system updates needed to stimulate a collective awakening every bit as radical as any of those throughout history.