Can Art Change the World? Thoughts from Coltrane and Vonnegut

I love art. I love music, comedy, film, fiction, and theatre. I appreciate painting, sculpture and architecture, though I admit I understand them less than I do other forms of art. I love the artistry of cooking, brewing and cocktail making, and will happily fight anyone who thinks they don’t count as art forms.

I’ve found myself moved by perfectly-deployed notes and chords. Sculptured air, as Frank Zappa called it.

I’ve had my thoughts provoked and my opinions challenged by carefully-crafted rhetoric in written or audible forms.

Art has certainly changed my world. But does it have the capacity to change the world?

I’m inspired by John Coltrane’s ‘glass half full’ dreams about the power of art:

I want to discover a method so that if I want it to rain, it will start immediately to rain. If one of my friends is ill, I’d like to play a certain song and he’ll be cured. When he’d be broke, I’d bring out a different song, and immediately he’d get all the money he needed. But what these pieces are, and what is the road to attain the knowledge of them, that I don’t know. The true powers of music are still unknown. To be able to control them must be, I believe, the goal of every music.” (John Coltrane)

But I often the world feels more like Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘glass half empty’ world:

During the Vietnam War, which lasted longer than any war we’ve ever been in and which we lost every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.” (Kurt Vonnegut)

So what do you reckon: to what extent can art truly change the world?

Or to put it another way: Are the arts half empty or half full?


Image by Romana Klee used under CC BY-SA 2.0

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