Over at First Thoughts, I point readers to recent discussions of the commercialization of art and the general decline in artistic judgment. I end with the question of how to regain this judgment:
The temptation here–and it’s an easy one–is to blame capitalism for this decline. Panero points out, however, that the problem is not the market, it’s us: “If we are here to put capitalism on trial, and capitalism loses, I wouldn’t question capitalism. I would question our judgment.”
By “judgment” I take James to mean the ability to recognize and value truth and beauty. This ability takes years of nourishment in our families, schools and churches, but, generally speaking, it’s no longer happening, to state the obvious. Truth has been replaced by relativism and egalitarianism (and, as R.R. Reno points out, a miniature moralism), and beauty by titillation. The difficult question is whether this judgment can be regained or whether, at this point, it can only be nourished in small pockets, here and there, for future generations.
Talk of changing the culture (or in this case, changing artistic judgment) is delicate. First, to state the obvious, we don’t change anything. God does. We are merely agents of his change. But second, and more practically, too much focus on changing the culture can often prevent us from being the vehicles of that very change to the extent that it tempts us to calculate or discuss the change we’ve caused or wish to cause and neglect the nourishing of truth and beauty in our own lives and the lives of those with whom we come in contact (students, colleagues, children, friends, and so forth). Of course, it’s helpful to step back from time to time to make sure we’re not off track, that in delving deeply in our respective disciplines or crafts we haven’t lost sight of what’s most important or been wrongly influenced by false ideas subtly expressed in even the best philosophy, music, poetry or art. At the same time, individuals who were great agents of change were often unaware of the change they had caused because, as is so often the case, most of it did not take place until much later, often after they had died.
So, leaving to God the question of how small or large our sphere of influence is, and whether it is principally in the present or the future, we should do whatever God puts in front of us daily to the best of our ability.