Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The arts and similar avenues towards shared understanding of value

Posted in social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on March 25, 2010

This is my third installment in a series I have not gotten back to recently in the blog, but that I have found myself thinking about a great deal – Social Networking and the Arts.

I am drawn back to this for several reasons. First of all, I see tremendous sustaining value in the arts as a form of individual expression. I also and just as strongly see the arts as a medium of shared value and one that opens eyes to the value of the other. The arts express some of our highest cultural values and help us to see their counterparts in the cultural values of others.

I also wanted to come back to this series and now with this posting because of some of the feedback I have received from my first posting in it in particular: The Arts as a Celebration of Diversity, the Arts as a Celebration of Our Underlying Communality. Some of this feedback has been in general agreement with what I wrote and I appreciate that but some has been in disagreement and I in a way find myself valuing that even more. It is not that these readers do not see value in the arts but rather that they do not see the arts as a unifying opportunity for seeing shared value in our differences.

I would argue that this perspective would be justified, at least as far as countering my writing on the matter if I assumed that the arts hold a unique role and value in doing this. So I write about the arts in this series but I want to shift to an alternative example here and as context if nothing else – the Ancient Olympics.

Greece of the Ancient Olympics was in large part divided into separate nation-like city states, several of which carried names that are still commonly known to this day such as Athens and Sparta. These were busy, thriving communities and they competed on many levels, and all too often through military conflict as well as in areas like trade and commerce.

The Olympics were one venue where people could and would come together from all across Greece and its many city states to compete and to celebrate, and to worship and yes to trade and in goods as well as ideas. And this competition included events like the javelin throw that came directly from military skills but it also included events like poetry and I will add that sculptors came to the Olympics from all over as well. So the Ancient Olympics were not just athletic events as they are in their modern reincarnation. They included a much wider range of shared cultural expression and values.

And a point that is crucially important here in this discussion is that the site of the Ancient Olympics was one place that all outside conflict was banned from and certainly during the games. People could and would come together in peaceful competition in these Olympics even when they and their city states were in fierce and even bitter competition.

It is not that athletic events in and of themselves or poetry and sculpture in and of themselves, or all of them together in and of themselves can and will force the issue of creating opportunity for peaceful competition and cooperation. The arts in general cannot do this either. But the willingness to come together to share vision and value, and both with members of one’s own community and with others who are different needs content and context and the arts can provide that. The Ancient Olympics did this and it can be argued that the Modern Olympics have too from the way East and West came together to compete in peace and even during the heights of the cold war. The arts can provide content and context and a deeply felt imperative to share and cooperate.

I think of museums and the popularity of museum exhibitions and particularly where they offer to shed light and understanding of what to us are the other. And in this, “us” can mean any of us as museums seem to strike a deep resonance in any culture that can develop and maintain them. And arts festivals bring people together to share and to appreciate and to see wonders from other too, as well as offering opportunity to more fully see and understand self.

So I freely admit that the arts are not unique in offering the sort of value I wrote about in my first posting in this series. I am also quite aware that the arts can at times be subverted to very different more cutting off and even xenophobic ends. Though I add that a malignant expression of the arts and attempts to do this, thwart the spirit of artistic expression and of the artists themselves and tend to ring hollow – consider the impact of politically motivated mandates and restraints on artistic expression and how hackneyed and eviscerated of culture the results become. Look to the “stylized” artistry of any of the historic totalitarian states in this and how blighted their art became.

So the arts may not be sufficient to create the open sharing and appreciation of both self and other, but this openness is at least long term, a requirement for active, vibrant survival of the artistic spirit. And at least a spark of that spirit lives in most all of us as individuals and even if we never seek to create works of art. We still in our teeming numbers go to see it.

And I come back to the basic premise of my initial posting and of the second posting in this series as well as I write this. I will have more postings to add to this series, including updates on the World Olympus festival.

3 Responses

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  1. […] Here is the original: The arts and similar avenues towards shared understanding of value … […]

  2. Brenda Young said, on May 31, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to post your comments here.

    There is also a relationship that art creates between time and the scale of human perspective. So, for example, thinking of why the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamyan, the statues were much larger than human scale and much older than the religion of the Taliban. Art can stand in testament to both past and future and remind us of our shared humanity by evoking the realm of human sentiment.

    For those who only believe in a present they think they can control, it is hard to respect the past or believe in the future.

    • Timothy Platt said, on May 31, 2010 at 4:34 pm

      Hi Brenda,

      Art does put things into perspective, and for both time and space, as Ozymandias’ grim vissage could attest. And in this, Art puts art into perspective through Shelley’s pen.

      Thanks for your comment, Tim
      (See for the poem’s full text.)

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