As buckets of ice water pummeled San Francisco Opera senior staff in response to the ALS challenge, my colleague Martha Chesley remarked that this was a great example of harnessing the internet for a good cause (ALS research, that is – not dowsing our esteemed colleagues). But, as with any facet of technology (such as nuclear physics) or system of thought (such as religion), the internet can serve purposes good and bad – witness the recent trolling of Robin Williams’s daughter, or the tragedy of Tyler Clementi. It’s not the medium, it’s the messenger.
This can be true of the arts, as well. Martial music has been used to spur combatants to glory and the grave (taranatara!). Research points to harmful effects of violent video games; misogynistic rap lyrics may perpetuate heinous attitudes toward women.
Kazuo Ishiguro, best known for The Remains of the Day, examines this double edge in An Artist of the Floating World, a poignant novel recounting the life of a fictional Japanese nationalist painter in the aftermath of World War II.
Censorship is not the answer. Freedom of ideas and expression is essential to personal and social development. But it’s ever more important to be able to make critical judgments amidst a deluge of images and information.
Arts education is ideally suited for promoting just this kind of discriminating thought. Great works of art revel in ambiguity, present new perspectives, and cultivate our ability to “hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald cited as a benchmark of intelligence. Like a cold shower, the arts have the power to shock us into new realizations. As we navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of cyberspace, arts education and the habits of mind it stimulates are needed more than ever.If you are receiving this post via email, you will need to click on the url or open the blog itself to view the video.