Essay: The transformative power of the arts

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  • Subject area(s): Religious studies and Theology essays
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  • Published on: February 4, 2019
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  • The transformative power of the arts
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You may say it’s hard to imagine the perfect world, one where democracy and freedom of expression are paramount, where no one holds a monopoly on thought, truth, and growth. Envisioning such a society may feel out of reach for reality; that how, in this fallen world with such faults, could we ever reach our imagined utopia. The arts, however, are the starting point to inspiring such change.
The transformative power of the arts embodies {real freedom} touching the eyes, ears, and hearts of everyone exposed to it’s message, even those who would rather ignore it’s truth. The beauty of art is that it needs no explanation, it’s the universal language of the soul, it goes beyond what the spoken word can teach us, it requires thought and interpretation, without institutional influence. Music is an art form that has long been used as a tool to expose social injustices. Music has an immense power as a tool to protest oppression, initiate community activism, and spur on change. It provides for a platform through which ideas may be presented and as a result begins conversations and reflection hopefully to encourage action to be taken on the issue. Woody Guthrie was a talented folk-rock artist, responsible for writing the famous visionary ‘This Land is Your Land’ song, and had the ability through his method of artistic expression to motivate his audience to take a stand against, worker’s rights, and racial inequality among other political conflicts at the time. Folk music was generally a rural music that was originally developed and passed down through generations through oral tradition. Woody Guthrie was able to provide through his folk music, stimulus for the civil rights movement. He petitioned for equality and unity, using his musical talent to change the course of history. Guthrie gave a voice to the struggles of the dispossessed and downtrodden while celebrating undeniable spirit in his songs. When he moved to New York City in 1940 his political involvement became increasingly more paramount, he became a valued musical spokesman for labour and populist movements. Guthrie, was an early pioneer of political musical activism enabling other rock legends such as John Lennon, Ten Years After, and Bob Dylan to advocate for other political issues in the years following. His music is raw, simple and emotionally charged, forged in his own combative political beliefs and experiences which molded his worldview while travelling the country, which at the time, was the facing economic and environmental disaster of The Great Depression. He recognized the moral depravity evident at the time and envisioned a better future, choose to use his music to combat fascism and support humanitarian causes. Guthrie wrote music up until the time of his death and continued performing his politically charged songs, persistent in inspiring the American nation. His songs advocated in support for the labour movement, equality, and unity of the nation and were able to invoke an emotional response, create a unified and collective identity, taking action in response to civic unrest. Musicians often serve as society’s conscience and in times of political and social conflict must leverage their musical platform opportune to illuminate injustices.

The arts are a vital tool used for activism and have the ability to change the course of history. Art forces people to think and is one of the most powerful weapons against the oppression we face today and has been utilized as such throughout history. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream poem is recognized as one of the greatest and most moving of all time, and he along with other brave men and women, transformed the American society from one of discrimination and tyranny to one of true and fair democracy where all persons are awarded opportunities to participate and achieve. He held a pivotal role in paving the path to freedom in American for those suffering from racial segregation and discrimination. Over 50 years ago King ignited a fire in the hearts and minds of America through his dramatic and emotional expression of his vision of unity and racial equality from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King’s main objective was to convince his audience to stand up together in demand for racial justice and the rights afforded to all under the Constiution. His soaring rhetoric, had a key message, demanding equality; so powerful and masterfully delivered. His repetition of the phrase, “I have a dream” aided in memorability, persistent in challenging his audience to think about a future of equality, unity, and peace in America. King’s display of true sublimity throughout his speech touched the audience heart, it went beyond the words, allowing instead pure emotion to run through. He called his American audience, made up of both blacks and whites, to consider all people and to be united, undivided, and free. He uses a number of artistic tools and techniques employed in literature to convey his objective clearly and more effectively. Dr. King clearly highlights the difference between how things are and how he dreams they will soon be, alluding to the Bible, The Gettysburg Address, and the Declaration of Independence. Employing rhythm and imagery he vividly depicts a picture of injustice and oppression in the minds of his audience, and to invoke contemplation he utilizes biblical language, frequent repetition, and alliteration to contrast the stark reality of the time to the prospective of the true American dream, for all of its citizens. His message rang so loud and powerfully, he was able to transform an openly racist culture to one of tolerance and acceptance leading to a spiritual cleansing of the nation. His poem was meant to inspire, the emotion and passion behind his message was felt through every word. He addresses his audience as a whole, as a body has many members and all are of equal value and importance, his poem acts as a call to action challenging each and every member of his audience with equal focus on both the blacks and the whites.

What we see and how we interpret art is how our thinking skills are cultivated, enabling us to become more independent in our thoughts, allowing our values and beliefs to be formed unique to ourselves. Our freedom of expression, speech, and interpretation, are all innately complex. These rights associated with the arts, though not exclusive to, also give us the right to shock, disgust and offend. As a professor at the University of Toronto who has been a public advocate for free speech said in a recent presentation, “Freedom of Speech [or expression] is not just another principle. It’s the mechanism by which we keep our psyches and our societies organized, and we have to be unbelievably careful about infringing upon that,” (Jordan Peterson). There is a main stream “politically correct” message being forced down the throats of each and every Canadian citizen, and is a pandemic running rampant throughout all of North America, and the majority accept this form of brainwash willingly, unaware of its consequences. If I recall on the most recent US election, it was quite a controversial one. Many sources agree it became one of the most talked about and debated in political history, preceding the Bush-Kerry election of 2004, the Lincoln-Bell election of 1860, and even the Dewey Truman election of 1948. It became a topic of argument, not discussion, even here in Canada. People around the world were completely and utterly stunned, as based on the polls leading up to the election he didn’t have a chance in hell. The reason he was so under approved is in part because of the “politically correct” biased message, doesn’t allow for the freedom of open dialogue. They preach an indoctrinated view, that, when met with opposition, all forms of dialogue stop and the personal attacks start. Such conditioning is so dangerous, though so many don’t realize, is indirect infringement on peoples thought processes, and I think it’s safe to say a stepping stone towards complete loss of our freedom of speech, expression, and interpretation. So many have already lost their freedom of interpretation, demonstrated through the countless high school and university students, that when questioned about controversial topics will utter the same headlined responses. However, little to no actual contemplation goes into the forming of these opinions; they align with them because they’ve been told they are just the “right” opinions to have. We have to utilize our freedom of expression through our art and activism in order to take actions against the current direction of our societies to blind uneducated submission under totalitarian control.

As Christians, we are warned in first Peter “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you…But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you,” (1Peter 4:12-14). Our brothers and sisters in Christ, around the world, face imprisonment, suffering, and even death for their convictions each and every day. Here, in the Western world, we much less face the physical persecution of our brothers around the globe, but in a world proceeding farther and deeper into paganism, we are faced with scorn, mockery, and ridicule. Our burdens are light in comparison to what some have to carry, yet they are burdens nonetheless. However, when faced with such persecution, it can be a challenge to stand up for our faith even though we have been blessed with the freedom to worship and the freedom to believe. I understand the difficulty of the decision, living in a world ever so critical of Christianity as it is today, and Peter, Jesus’s most beloved disciple, understood it too. Peter had an exaggerated self-confidence in his own loyalty to Christ, promising fidelity to Jesus incessantly on the night of the Lord’s Supper, he would’ve never thought he would deny him three times before the next morning. This is the daily struggle of the {Christian} to choose to utilize our freedom of religion and stand up for what we believe in or to deny him too. As the world leaders try to move us toward a one-world utopia, the pressure builds on Christians to conform to their ideology. Our Western power addicts preach a diverse world, but in practice are accepting only to their {ideal}, they preach tolerance but only tolerant to their {ideal}, they preach a veracity of claims ultimately seeking their own enrichment at the cost of humanity’s ruin. They attempt to strip away any trace of the Christian Judaeo foundation that this country was founded upon, and remove the blessing that have made this country so successful, in comparison to other nations. The State has become their God and they have {utilized} fear of ridicule, ostracism, and rejection to supress the message of Christ and we fall prey to the entrapment daily. We deny Christ and his clearly outline teachings concerning morality, sexuality, and the family, choosing rather to “go with the flow.” All the while Christians are martyred in the Middle East and Europe, living faithfully, wholeheartedly, and unapologetically for Him, without allowing even the fear of death to successfully extinguish their faith.

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