Currently we are experiencing a worldwide economic turndown, the scope and severity of which has not been seen since the Great Depression. In this environment, the arts are often seen as luxuries that can be dispensed with. And it's hard to ague that basic services are not more important. After all, if your house were ablaze, you would probably want to see firemen arriving, not a string quartet.
But the arts still have a vital place in society and are perhaps even more essential in a time of crisis such as ours. We hear a great deal about the recession being caused by the worst in human nature --shortsightedness, greed, indifference to the problems of others. The arts offer a corrective to this cynical and disheartening view. They express our aspirations toward beauty and permanence. They are inspired by empathy and our need to communicate with each other. While greed isolates us within walls of fear and willful blindness, the arts unite us in a community of shared values. With them we invite others to see through our eyes and at the same time attempt to see through theirs. At their noblest the arts are a gift of love to the world.
When people are stressed by fear, self-absorbed and seeking a focus for their anger, minority groups such as ours tend to become even more marginalized and disempowered. But through the practice of art we can resist these harmful tendencies. We can find a sense of belonging through membership in a tradition that goes all the way back to the beginnings of our species. And we can recapture a sense of power through mastery of a skill that others have always found mysterious.
So, while it would have to wait for the firemen to do their work, that string quartet would still be welcome. Playing on the ashes of our material wealth, it would bring us the consolation of beauty and a vivid reminder of what human beings at their best can
Paul Kahntop top