Several years ago, I team-taught an interdisciplinary class with the subtitle of “the city and the soul.” One of the points that we sought to make to the students was that politics — at least how classical philosophers understood it — involved far more than just the ordering of material goods, the structure of the state, and questions of representation. Politics involved creating a civic arrangement that would contribute to the individual citizen’s soul flourishing.
We sure don’t think of politics this way these days, at least overtly. But it’s the rationale behind things like city parks and libraries. It’s at the root of the National Endowment for the Arts and, in fact, it’s the basis of everything I say about politics and art from the national level to the local: Art and culture are civic goods just like parks, public pools and zoos, and they deserve public attention.
In my very first weekly column almost eight years ago, I said that one of the most important things required for a thriving arts scene is to have an ongoing conversation about the arts. This is what this column has tried to create from the time it appeared.
Whether I wrote about local issues — what a certain arts organization here in town was doing, or the significance of a new mural that just popped up downtown — or something of more national or even international scope, the purpose here has been to get readers to think about the scale of what we call the arts, and about the many ways they influence our lives.
Unfortunately, however, this column is going to be a casualty of some necessary changes coming to the Waco Tribune-Herald. It may appear once in a while in shorter form, but sadly, this is the end of its weekly run. It’s been a good one: We’ve covered a lot of ground together over the course of eight years. I’ve talked to many people who’ve enjoyed its contribution and I hope it’s made some sort of difference.
The Waco art scene has come a long way from what it was eight years ago, although there’s still a long way to go. If your interest in the arts has grown or broadened over the past few years, keep it up. There’s a lot out there to explore, from musicians and composers you’ve not yet heard of to great painters you may never have thought about. When it comes to the arts, knowing more deepens your understanding of everything you already know. In the arts, it’s never too late to find new favorites. There’s always great art waiting that will be new to you.
Conformity is a powerful force in our lives, politically and culturally, and society presses hard on every one of us to fit into a certain mold. Outliers tend to find little space. But good art teaches us not to be conformists, not to settle for prepackaged culture at every turn. Talking and thinking about art are the first steps to keeping yourself open to it.
G.K. Chesterton described art as “the signature of man,” and we’re at our most human when our creativity is engaged, our sense of beauty awakened, and art is a regular part of our lives. We aren’t purely materialistic creatures no matter how our skewed politics would have us be. I’m going to keep writing about this on a regular basis, looking at local and national issues, and you’ll always be able to find it on my blog (blogs.baylor.edu/david_a_smith/) and maybe in some other new places. And as always, I’ll welcome your comments on our continuing conversation.