Why Study the Arts?

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Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.

Literature. Cinema. Music. Drama. Photography. No matter the medium, we’re all familiar with art, both good and bad, in every source it uses to avail itself. We all have movies, books, and songs in mind that we either love, hate, or feel indifferent to. But many seem to be split on how much of an impact the arts have on people.

Some would argue that art has a negative impact on society. In Plato’s Republic, Plato expressed his view on education and worried that the way we tell stories would serve as a bad influence to us. Plato knows that young people always watch the way their elders behave, whether they are parents, teachers, or even strangers. And these young people will often mimic what they see other people doing, thinking that what they’re witnessing is perfectly normal. With that in mind, Plato wondered if the arts should be used in education at all. And if so, should we set boundaries on the kinds of art that we expose our children and students to?

Considering some forms of ugly art that exist, I can understand what Plato is talking about. For example, Garbage Pail Kids is often regarded as one of the worst movies ever made—not only because it’s horribly written, directed, acted, and put together—but also because it’s a children’s movie that promotes disgusting behavior including theft, violence, and sexual cruelty. It’s a movie that makes people cringe and feel unclean just thinking about it. Instances like that justify Plato’s point.

Despite the bad forms of art that exist, too many good forms outnumber them. There are good authors, composers, film directors, actors, and other artists who seem determined to produce the best art they can and learn as much as possible. These people have a passion for what they do; when it comes through in their work, it’s beautiful to behold. Even if we’re not passionate about the arts, we all have a favorite story or song in the backs of our heads. Why? Because they mean something to us. For example, a good novel isn’t just a combination of good prose and good story elements. That’s certainly what it needs. But it’s much more than that; it’s an experience that leaves an impact on its readers, whether they’re aware of it or not. And when it does that, it becomes a story that we continue to read and talk about years after its time, even when other stories fade from our consciousness. That’s why we continue to read JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series or critically analyze William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets; they left a handprint on our memory that can’t be easily thrown away.

The purpose of good art is summarized best in this quote from film critic Doug Walker: “Good art doesn’t come from focus groups and statistics; it comes from people who share how they see things in their own unique way.” Since the time of Plato, the world has seen both good and bad forms of storytelling. Everything we read tells us a little bit about the people who share their creations and what they believe. Some forms such as the Twilight series are meant to give nothing more than momentary pleasure. But then there are artists who share a piece of something undeniably good with us through clever writing and meaningful morals. Dr. Seuss’s books have shaped our childhoods since the 1950s, and people are continuing to read his stories even today. And as adults, we still talk about works created by artists such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Louisa May Alcott, and Vincent Van Gogh because their works helped us to understand how other people see the world. Maybe art is far more educational than Plato understood it to be.

Until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “So long.”

photo source: http://www.summerfineartscamp.org/

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