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The Dean's Column: Why art matters

09.01.2017 | By:
Religion Professor at Texas Wesleyan, Mark Hanshaw Headshot

This semester, we have opened a new art exhibition space. We have celebrated this space and, already, it has housed work from an artist of international acclaim. Still, one may reasonably ask, what does all of this have to do with our university’s educational mission? Why is this important?

I see art, in its various forms, as representative of the eternal quest of humankind to understand. Through art, we represent our greatest desires and most ominous fears. We seek to depict ideas and themes, where mere words may have failed us. Perhaps, most importantly, through art, we seek to communicate truths about what it means to be human. The sorts of truths conveyed through art may not typically be historical in nature, or even verifiable. Art may not convey the sorts of logical or formulaic truths of the type found in dense texts. But, instead, art may represent immediate expressions of energy and emotion that capture the spirit of a momentary experience or pure emotion.

Especially within religious traditions, art has been utilized by individuals across time to convey a vast array of messages about the nature of existence and the human purpose. From even the most ancient societies that existed on earth, we glean an understanding of prevailing cultural traits and community priorities through recovered art. It is probably fair to say, then, that the art being produced today will be examined by analysts and thinkers of the distant future, as they seek to recapture an understanding of our own culture.

Through art, we can communicate profound insight. From the Buddhist monk’s sand mandala, which is destroyed as soon as it is created, to the relief sculptures of saints and demons that adorn the great cathedrals of Europe, these works speak to our ethics, our aesthetic values, our social priorities, and our sense of purpose. Moreover, art is a vehicle of communication. As such, through a single piece of art, all of the disciplines of Arts & Letters may well intersect. It is, then, for this reason, that art matters, for all of us.