Recall for me the last time you felt the sun. The cold, persistent as time, lapping at the edges of your coat. Stepping, the streets crowded, laughter, the wind’s push, pull, circular traffic, and there—a face. Across the way, perhaps, but eyes meet eyes. Turn, look away, but the moment freezes the mind—oh, how human a face it was. Or how human it must have been, that I should sing this human song.
I have been asked to write something about art. I must admit, I was very skeptical of doing so. The thought of writing about something for which I care so deeply, for a varied audience, for those who may not share this love, felt like a lost cause. So instead, I wish to address this piece to you directly, to you alone, whoever you may be—all that matters happens face-to-face.
I wish not to talk about museums, concert halls, or theaters: those institutions that preserve and protect those historic monuments of culture we call works of art. Instead, I aim to disrupt the notion that confines art to those spaces: that conception of the museum as an escape from weary days whose ends are their own resetting. I wish to disrupt that common thought which claims art transports us away to some unsustainable state of bliss for as long as we sit in the hall; before we, necessarily, plummet up from the seat, down the stairs, through the double doors, and back out into harsh reality. This way of thinking, often generalized as the “art as escapism” mentality, works only to alienate us from the potential power art has to grip our lives and shape our humanity.
Think back once more to that time you saw a stranger, and they saw you—that fleeting moment of naked humanity, ignited and put out all in one breath. In such moments, we are changed. We are moved. In such moments, though there are no “works of art” involved, we feel acutely the power of art, and are in touch with that fundamental sense of humanity with which all great art deals. Being moved is not an experience for which you can pay a fee of admission. It is a transformative consciousness that blindsides you, devours you whole, and reassembles you deeper, more loving, more human.
In our buzzing, gated city block of pale stone and green copper, such ideals are especially difficult to hold firm. I walk to class each morning, disheartened by questioning faces for whom I have no answers. Piled on with online quizzes, lab reports, and the threat of passing years, we students have much to stress and worry about. This is why we need art all the more. Imagine those same faces, now lit bright, still questioning, but having touched some deep and universal love. Such a scene is not the product of artistic escapism: Art cannot and will not transport us out—away from all things “here.” It will, however, if embraced wholly, with that eternal fire of soul that each of us holds deep within, help us call “here” home.
Thus, to lead a life empowered by art, an endless pursuit, is not about going to concerts, museums, or plays—though these things are incredible. Rather, it is about viewing the everyday through an artistic lens, and living in constant search of those transcendent moments. And when you do find yourself in a museum, or a performance hall, or reading a book, I hope you will ask, “how can I live this experience of art, and celebrate my humanity in the process?”
In this song, let us sing together.
The author is a bassist and composer. He is currently a senior at Columbia University.