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Art and moral courage

Posted in Art, Continental, Museums, Storytelling by Alex L. on February 12, 2012

Louvre Museum at dusk (image courtesy of Gloumouth1 via Wikipedia)Does being an atheist mean you have to be non-religious, asks popular philosophy writer Alain de Botton? In a new book and in an interview on the podcast Philosophy Bites, he answers that atheists should give certain religious practices a second look.

Himself an atheist, de Botton argues these points in the interview: (1) it’s easy for people of all beliefs to forget moral lessons they’ve learned in the past and continue repeating their mistakes, (2) religions do a good job of creating a “moral atmosphere” that inspires people to think about goodness, evil, suffering, and kindness; (3) art museums should organize at least some of their galleries not chronologically but thematically, taking inspiration from church services that through the senses invite the viewer to consider moral and ethical questions; and (4) atheists should adopt for themselves ideas that they like from any religion just like one may both like and dislike certain parts of the same work of literature.

Can going to a museum make one morally courageous? I agree with de Botton’s first proposition, and I also think that art can remind us of our values. For me, narrative-centered art forms like film, literature, and biography have the strongest impact on reinforcing my beliefs (or challenging them, for that matter). Static forms of art (like painting) or highly stylized ones (like opera) are more difficult for me to apply to my life. Even though I still enjoy them, I lack a mental paradigm to delve into their truths. Music, poetry, and philosophy writing break down for me in the middle: the more their arguments and observations are delivered in a narrative form, the more I am capable of thinking seriously about them. (more…)

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Love of art in the Siege of Leningrad

Posted in Academia, Art, Russian, War by Alex L. on January 7, 2012

"In the Abstract" header

This first of a series of posts, called “In the Abstract”, are ideas for topics for new history books. Sometimes historians, I think, shoot themselves in the foot by framing their research projects in an uninteresting way. Others, though, do this masterfully and create history books that are engaging, relevant, insightful, and bring the characters and world of another age to life not only for the academic community but for the general public too. Often the path of success or failure begins in the choice of topic. In an effort to sharpen my skills in framing historical topics, I welcome your criticism and comments of my imaginary abstract.

ART is frequently seen as flourish to life for those that can afford leisurely activities. Love of art is something that supposedly dies in people when other, more basic, human needs are not being met. But to a select group of Russian writers, poets, artists, and musicians that lived in Leningrad during the siege of 1941-44 by the German army, the drive to produce new creative work did not vanish. Amid the base struggle for survival in that city under blockade, with starvation, violence, death, cannibalism, terror, and inhumanity permeating their existence, many artists in Leningrad later wrote that they experienced the strongest artistic drive of their lives. There has not been a book in English devoted to their stories. A book about the individuals, meeting places, and creative works that these artists produced (among them Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7–the “Leningrad Symphony”) under the most unpromising circumstances would be a testament to the basic importance of creativity in human life.