My neighbor announced, “I didn’t listen to the radio today.” Of course, I knew exactly what she meant.
Some of us find the barrage of official cruelty and man-made disaster hard to stomach. We are a divided nation, a divided world. What is it that divides us? Religion? Politics? What does this have to do with art? Something intangible, essential.
Artists, that is, creators, dreamers, people who depend upon the inspiration of the muses - these are the people with strong imagination. Not simply the imagination of an architect who can picture a yet-to-be built building, or of a musician who can hear how a chord or phrase will sound before it’s played. Artists, including the architect and the musician, the painter and the choreographer, the novelist and more; these are the people who can imagine what it is like to be someone else.
I recently led a tour of business students in the art museum. The intention was to use art to develop empathy within them. A few were quite hard-hearted. Afterward, I kicked myself. I should have asked them to explore the difference between sympathy, and empathy. Sympathy says, “Oh, that poor person!” Sympathy notices that something went wrong for them. It’s a pity.
Empathy is different. Empathy experiences, at least to a degree, the distress, anxiety and injustice felt by the fellow human being - or creature. Empathy must struggle to alleviate the distress, and can't help but suffer, at least to a degree, if they fail to act.
Art that is to have any value at all, must contain some expression of the unity of the web of life. Aside from technical skill, to the extent that it stirs the heartless to become sympathisers, and sympathisers to become empathisers, the art is good.