What Art Can Do

by Christopher Horner

Grasmere (Photo by author)

Why do we value art? I am going to suggest that a large part of the answer is to do with its unique power to disclose and convey areas of our lives unavailable to us though other means. Art, on this account, is a kind of communication, and kind of act: something performative – a communication that makes something happen, in a way that eludes ordinary discourse. 

By ‘ordinary’ here I mean the kind of communication delivered by language when it is used to convey concepts: ranging from the most banal everyday speech to the most rarefied theory. Of course, ordinary speech acts themselves have a performative quality too – we don’t just communicate information through language, but make things happen, make requests, (‘shut the door’, ‘the meeting is over’ ‘help me!’). Moreover we use our bodies, tone of voice, emphasis and more: and the conceptual content may not even be what matters, especially when something isn’t banal, but matters greatly: moments of grief or joy, for instance. A gesture, a tear, or just silence may be more eloquent than words. It is this ‘beyond’ in our imperfect communications, that hint at what art can do. Art aspires to a more perfect communication: one that takes us beyond the confines of the lonely self.  Read more »

Report from Salzburg

by Leanne Ogasawara

“Someday, I’d like to visit Salzburg when the Summer Festival’s not going on. That way, I can see if the place is real; for I just can’t help wondering if Salzburg is not some kind of enchanted fairy world, which only comes into being when the music is playing…”

“Nonsense” said our guide matter-of-factly.“In Salzburg, the music never stops playing!” She paused and then added more circumspectly: “But of course, the Summer Festival is the pièce de résistance. And we Salzburgers wait for it all year long.”

Salzburgers are not the only ones who look forward to the festival all year long; for year after year—like some gigantic magnet—it draws artists and music lovers from all over the world. To call it larger than life would only be an understatement; for the festival exists outside of regular time; beyond ordinary life. Super-charged and surprisingly playful, artists, who don’t often work together, perform works that are cutting-edge and often quite risky, because –well, it’s the festival! And if you aren’t taking chances then you run the risk of being Disneylandified, a previous festival director once said. Along with the artists, music lovers also arrive to this city like pilgrims. For unlike during the regular season, when music is more of a diversion from our everyday lives, during festival season attendees are able to immerse themselves completely into an enchanted world that begins and ends with art.

Opera as resistance? Music as re-enchantment?

If you don’t like the “high brow” arts –or disapprove of the opera (you know who you are)—beware! Because Salzburg is the belly of the beast! We upped our game by booking a room at the Hotel Goldener Hirsch. I had read in an opera magazine that this was “the place” to stay for opera goers. I hadn’t, however, really thought things through; as we were not quite prepared for the jet-set atmosphere of the place –not to mention being severely under-dressed! Our own inadequacies aside, again and again during those four days I kept thinking about the Japanese expression ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会).

Have you heard of that term from Zen Buddhism? It basically means something like “One time, one encounter.” Read more »