Art and Societal Renewal

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.  


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Paintings With Purpose


“A nation’s leaders must be constantly reminded by artists and intellectuals not to mistake political correctness for eternal truths.  In the absence of a genuine aesthetic, spiritual, and moral culture, the vision of the people will be shaped by the prevailing political ideology….Americans who yearn for renewal must understand that real and lasting change begins within the minds and imaginations of gifted artists of all disciplines.  They in turn need a cultural milieu that welcomes subtlety and beauty of thought and form….

“The influence of even the most powerful government is dwarfed by the influence of great art, literature, architecture, music, and drama to give shape and meaning to the world we inhabit.”

–James F. Cooper, Knights of the Brush: The Hudson River School and the Moral Landscape