Art improving society by making us think

I am going to relate one of Richardson’s quotes on art (paintings) to music today: “But Pictures are not merely Ornamental, they are also instructive; and Thus our Houses are not only unlike the Caves of Wild Beasts, or the Hutts of Savages…Our Walls like the Trees of Dodona’s Grove speak to us, and teach us history, morality, divinity, excite in us joy, love, pity, devotion, etc. If pictures have not this good effect, tis our own fault in not choosing well, or not applying ourselves to make a right use of them.” If we’re going to relate this to music, we could say that music is not purely entertainment, it’s also instructive…It should teach us history, morality, divinity, ANYTHING….

Miley Cyrus – We Can’t Stop

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrUvu1mlWco

“It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can see who we want

It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can see who we want

Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere
Hands in the air like we don’t care
‘Cause we came to have so much fun now
Got somebody here might get some now

If you’re not ready to go home
Can I get a hell no
‘Cause we gonna go all night
‘Till we see the sunlight alright

So la da da di we like to party
Dancing with Molly
Doing whatever we want,
This is our house
This is our rules
And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night
Can’t you see it we who bout’ that life
And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
We run things, things don’t run we
Don’t take nothing from nobody yeah yeah

It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can see who we want

To my home girls here with the big butts
Shaking it like we at a strip club
Remember only God can judge us
Forget the haters cause somebody loves ya
And everyone in line in the bathroom
Trying to get a line in the bathroom
We all so turnt up here
Getting turnt up yeah yeah yeah

So la da da di we like to party
Dancing with Molly
Doing whatever we want
This is our house
This is our rules
And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night
Can’t you see it we who bout’ that life
And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
We run things
Things don’t run we
Don’t take nothing from nobody yeah yeah

It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can see who we want

It’s our party we can do what we want to
It’s our house we can love who we want to
It’s our song we can sing if we want to
It’s my mouth I can say what I want to yea, yea, yeah

And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night
Can’t you see it we who bout’ that life
And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
We run things, things don’t run we
Don’t take nothing from nobody, yeah yeah
Yeah yeah, yeah yeah,
(We can do what we want, we can do what we want) hey”

This. Song. Is. So. Horrible. If we’re really going to stretch what Richardson would’ve said about Miley Cyrus, we could give him the benefit of the doubt — maybe he’d say this song is fine because it brings some (deaf) people joy. However, I suspect that he would despise the song because it has no moral value, no intellectual value, no chance of bettering society. Instead, it encourages people to act mindlessly and party and not care about anything (the exact opposite of what Richardson wanted art to do).

But, I wanted to point out another Richardson quote: “If gentlemen therefore found pleasure in pictures, drawings, prints…and the like curious works of art [music]; is discovering their beauties, and defects; in making proper observations thereupon; and in all the other parts of the business of a connoisseur, how many hours of leisure would here be profitably employ’d, instead of what is criminal, scandalous, and mischievous!”

Now, I don’t believe that the primary goal of art should necessarily be to improve society. Art is a means of expressing oneself, and in my opinion, self expression should be the main goal of art. Only sometimes does this form of self expression mean also attempting to improve society. However, I do agree with Richardson in the sense that people should hold themselves to a certain standard of what they CHOOSE to enjoy as art. In my opinion, Richardson would have called indulging in loving a song like “We Can’t Stop” scandalous and mischievous. Even though the song is music and therefore technically “art,” Richardson would not have supported it. Instead, he would say that “’tis our own fault in not choosing well.” We as a society have chosen to make this song popular and relevant! While in my opinion art does not necessarily need to instruct society, popular music today definitely reflects the values of the majority of the American culture. It is so sad to me that a song like “We Can’t Stop” is what a large percentage of American wants to listen to on the radio.

While it is difficult to define what is “good” art, I believe that Richardson was getting at the idea that art should challenge us. It should improve society in that people spend their time enjoying it because the skill and intricacies in the art created by the artist. Thus, the mindless pop songs that take over the radio these days are, in my opinion, only making our nation worse.

Here’s an example of some good art I think Richardson would approve of:

“The Cave” – Mumford & Sons

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KkUeRPjc-Y

It’s empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you’ve left behind

The harvest left no food for you to eat
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see
But I have seen the same
I know the shame in your defeat

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
Know my name as it’s called again

Because I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I’ll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind

So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker’s hand

So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

Because I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

I know it’s cliché to choose Mumford & Sons, but they are a good example of a popular band that writes meaningful and complex lyrics, and ask serious questions about life. They also are all very skilled artists. Therefore, being a fan of Mumford & Sons would follow Richardson’s belief that listening and being a connoisseur of art can shape society positively. To appreciate music like this is to appreciate artistic talent, and the music “excite in us joy, love, pity, devotion, etc.” as Richardson suggests art should. Richardson wrote, “And if learn to draw, and to understand pictures, and drawings were made a part of the education of a gentleman, as their example would excited the others to do the like, it cannot be deny’d but that this would be a farther improvement even of this part of our people: the whole nation would by this means be removed some degrees higher into the rational state, and make a more considerable figure amongst the polite nations of the world.” I believe that making skilled and meaningful music, as well as appreciating skilled and meaningful music, really could achieve this end.

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2 thoughts on “Art improving society by making us think

  1. Lauren,

    Ironically you chose the song “The Cave” when your quote from Richardson referred to “caves of wild beasts.” Intentional…maybe, cool…yes. Way to respond to two of Richardson’s points; questioning the purpose of art as well as if art can be used to improve society. I’m offended that you do not believe good ol’ My Cy is doing the world a favor with her eloquent lyrics. Heh heh.

    You completed the requirements for the assignment and then some.

    Grade, “S”

    Samantha Q

  2. Lauren, A quick WordPress tip, when you want to embed a video from Youtube, don’t just copy in the URL. Instead, find the button in the editor that says “Add Media,” then a window will open up. If you paste the URL in there, the video will appear embedded in your post. –M

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