Why the Expressive Arts are Essential to the Transition

16 Apr

The expressive arts: music and dance, drawing and painting, calligraphy, sculpture, acting, needlecraft, architecture, and so on. Why they are essential: Because they bind us to one another and to the earth, they transform a place, a locus, into a home.

Before continuing down that path, however, let’s take a look back to the Romantics. It’s important to see how, for all their love of nature and of the expressive arts, they contributed to the ideologies that have ended up alienating us from Nature, and from the expressive arts.

It’s really quite simple. Back at the turn of the 18th into the 19th century, as the industrial revolution took hold, the Romantics venerated Nature, and opposed it to the City and to Industry. Industry was dirty, degrading, and alienating, keeping us from our True Home, nature. The trouble is, by so arguing, the Romantics placed Nature on a Pedestal, and put the Pedestal Over There Somewhere. The Romantics preserved nature by separating it from us. As more and more people moved into the cities, more and more people moved away from Nature. Nature became more and more alien, even as the Romantic Ideal became more and more alluring.

At the same time, the Romantics invested artistic expression in a class of rustics that lived Other There, in Nature, but also in an elite class of Geniuses who, while living among us, were not of us. Music and painting and poetry and dance became the provinces of those august geniuses, on the one hand, and women and children on the other. They were no longer capacities that each and everyone of us had and exercised. And those geniuses, they became the playthings of the industrial rich, perhaps railing against them, but ultimately tied to them as patrons.

As a result, all too many of us live in a world that is no longer imaginatively made and remade by us, through our own imaginative crafting. And so we are vulnerable to the empty posturing of mediated culture. Our music and art are made for us by a class of media geniuses; to be sure, this stuff is made in great variety, and often with consummate skill, but still, it is made for us, not by us. And nature has become a channel on the cable box and a trip to a park. We can’t even see it in our backyard or on the street in front of us. Yet it’s there, even if that street is in the middle of the densest city. It has to be there, in the air, even if the air is polluted.

The Transition is about reclaiming the world immediately around us, our local world. We reclaim it, take responsibility for it, and remake it. In so doing, we remake ourselves.

Rather, to remake our world we must remake ourselves as well. We do that by inventing our own dances, telling our own stories, painting our own pictures, and sharing all with our fellow travelers in the transition. We reclaim our world and our communities through crafting our stories and our dances.

We are the world, and we must sing our songs.


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