This post comes to you as I reflect on a philosophy lesson I taught two days ago.
It’s getting towards the end of term in NSW and I’ve explored an overview of western philosophy with Year 9. Well, more honestly, we’ve danced across the surface of western philosophy. There’s no way you can even go close to plumbing any depths in a term.
At any rate, I thought it would be a good idea to touch on the philosophy of aesthetics, before the term concluded, with Immanuel Kant as our guide. So we explored how the aesthetic attitude from Kant’s perspective cannot be merely intellectual, nor manipulated by possible personal gain (ie. we express disinterestedness) and that it must bring about an emotional response.
AKA, it’s ‘art’. Pure art.
As someone who considers herself more on the arts side than the science side, this part of philosophy appeals to me (and just quietly, I felt like it was one of my better deliveries of philosophical concepts this term).
I read recently that the philosopher, Arthur Shopenhauer (unsurprisingly German with that name), believed that there was no meaning to life, but that art, along with a few other experiences, exist to basically get us through the day, and escape from the meaningless cycle of striving.
Somewhat depressing, but he makes a decent point.
What do we have, if not art to get us through the days?
As part of my lesson on Friday I included listening to the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana an opera by Mascagni.
Does it give you a Kantian emotional response?
I think even Year 9 boys know it does (and they are stereotypically not ones drawn to opera). It’s pretty gosh darn good.
However, there’s no judgment here if it doesn’t for you. Art is subjective.
How then does art fit into the ‘Christian experience’?
Are we as pessimistic as Schopenhauer, and believe that there is little to get us through a meaningless existence other than art?
If we’re honest: some days, yes.
Some days even the wonder of the gospel escapes us. Not because it is lacking, but because we cannot see above the mire of our flawed human existence.
Sometimes, I think we actually need art to help us to see the gospel. Whether that art is a painting, a dance, a sculpture or a piece of music.
If art is above all that is ‘base and primitive’ aka tainted desire, then surely it can lift us to the sublime? Surely it can lift our eyes heavenward in a multitude of ways?
Being Palm Sunday today, it’s almost Good Friday. Good Friday is a day for quiet contemplation and reflection.
If I’d had time last Friday, I would have played another piece of music for my class. Instead, they needed time to work on their soon due assessment task, so I derailed my lesson for 20 minutes to allow them time for this.
Don’t get me started on the primitive nature of learning and assessment getting in the way of true art happening. That’s another blog post entirely. Perhaps even an entire book.
What I would have played for my class is a piece by Tim Story called Asleep the Snow Came Flying. If you think that po-mo title is fabulous, the music is even better. It’s one of those compositions that manages to so excellently fuse the melancholic with the sublime.
Perhaps the perfect soundtrack for some meditation this coming Friday. I leave it with you here.
Yours in quiet contemplation of art and the gospel,