About ten years ago, maybe longer, I read an interview with U2′s Bono, and he said (paraphrasing from memory) “art and lovemaking are the ways to touch God.”
I think he meant that art and lovemaking were transcendent because they are both activities are a means of self-revelation – that they take us out of ourselves and make us vulnerable in an act of creation, or co-creation, and there is tremendous power in that.
Well, I happen to think – if that’s what he meant – that Bono was correct. The co-creative power of sex is so powerful it can create life despite science’s best efforts to prevent it. And art is so powerful, it can topple egos, open souls and defeat ideologies.
Santiago Ramos takes an absorbing look at the power of art and why dictators fear it, so.
In 1957, a 24-year-old Canadian virtuoso pianist named Glenn Gould visited the Soviet Union on an official mission of cultural exchange. Gould’s presence made such an impact among the Russians who heard him play that, fifty years later, Feyginberg is able to interview people for whom the encounter with Gould is still one of the most significant events of their life.
A theatre director named Roman Viktyuk describes a packed house in Leningrad, waiting for Gould to arrive: “The place was full of people. Everyone here was expecting a miracle.” That expectation was already subversive; miracles weren’t supposed to be necessary after the Revolution. Vladimir Tropp, a pianist, adds: “Gould was the first to reveal this world to us. The Berlin Wall existed in music as well, and perhaps Gould was one of those who were breaking that wall.” Another fan confesses that “we started to live by each recording of Gould.” The Russians who heard him play began to love Gould more than the Revolution.
Well, that’s dangerous! Can’t have people loving art more than a “dear leader,” now, can we?
Great art flourishes when people are free – when they are permitted to tap into the Godspark that resides within them, and this is true, even if they must work within some sort of guideline or restriction. Sometimes it is the restriction, itself, that helps to open floodgates of greatness. Camille Paglia once said (paraphrasing from memory, again) that homosexual artists were never as productive, creative or subversively great as they were when they were in the closet; once out, art suffered with a flatness and lack of urgency or energy. In Rome, one finds evidence, everywhere, of passionate, creative genius unleashed down the centuries both in service to and sometimes contra the restrictive Catholic Church, which may have had prudish ideas, but still encouraged and patronized art, often for art’s sake – but always with some sort of accountability.
When people are free, they create art. When they must operate within some stricture, or have accountability, the art still flourishes; often the demands of accountability help art to answer something, respond to something, direct itself.
Art only dies when the human spirit has been subjugated and trampled on, and submission has become a second-nature.
Ramos moves from Gould’s recitals in Russia, to East Germany, and The Lives of Others: :
The problem is not that poetry and music are not persuasive enough, but that the totalitarian mind limits the scope of reason within itself and is not open to being persuaded by a new experience—especially the experience of the mysterious, which it quickly debunks. The greatness of The Lives of Others lies in showing us that the totalitarian mind is more vulnerable than we think, and that a single moment of beauty can pierce through decades of ideological brainwashing. As Glenn Gould’s case shows, the power of the artist lies not necessarily with the political content of his work but rather in the intelligibility of the beauty that he creates. The Cold War is over, but lies of ideology and totalitarianism are still with us . . .
Indeed. Read the whole thing and ponder how 88 keys and ten fingers, or a blank page and a keyboard – when ravished by the human spirit, unbounded, can tear down walls.
And ponder too, I guess, what happens when resistance, or strictures, or some sort of accountability is no longer relative to art, and art becomes only about itself.
Balance. It always comes back to balance, doesn’t it?
UPDATE: It strikes me that if Egypt were to be taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood with a possible threat of segregating the sexes, the art question will become very interesting. I keep thinking about those destroyed Buddhas.
Andrew McCarthy: Fear the Muslim Brotherhood
UPDATE II: The Grand Inquisitor
Related: The Life you Live May Be Your Own