James F. Cooper, in the last chapter of his Knights of the Brush: The Hudson River School and the Moral Landscape, says this of the role of art in renewing our society’s disoriented moral compass:
A revolution of beauty, truth, and goodness requires leadership from all parts of society–parents, educators, politicians, business people. Solutions for the crisis in contemporary culture cannot be successfully addressed only by looking to the past. We must use language that speaks directly to the people of today. We must create public and private spaces that invite worship, civility, education, virtue, love, and fidelity.
Cooper then mentions two fascinating historical precedents for what he envisions. First,
The emperor Augustus dramatically revitalized the faltering Roman Empire, beset by internal chaos and civil strife, by embarking on an ambitious “cultural program.” Refurbishing old temples, creating beautiful new works of civic architecture and public sculpture, he found a way to express the longing of the Romans for the virtues of the past.