Why We Need Art in a Recession

carolyn_arends-1Carolyn Arends, a Christian folk singer-songwriter I first encountered a decade or so ago when I heard her cover Rich Mullins’ “Jacob and 2 Women” on a tribute album, has written a great piece for Christianity Today entitled “Saying More Than We Can Say: Why the Arts Matter Even During A Recession.” Arends expresses a certain concern she has had:

In these tough times, I worry that violins and stained glass and folk songs may become extraneous. Many people are in a state of financial frostbite; just as blood flow to the extremities is restricted to save vital organs in a case of hypothermia, resources for less essential items must be diverted during an economic crisis. Who’s going to buy tickets to a film festival, ballet, or concert when there isn’t enough money for groceries?

What business do I have writing songs when there is practical work that needs doing? Do the arts matter? Are they expendables or essentials?

She goes on to explain an account she heard from Karl Paulnack about a quartet written in a Nazi prison camp.  Paulnack concludes,

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? … And yet—from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art … Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. Art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are.

I recommend reading the full article.  It is an incredible exploration of why, even during a financial recession and other difficult times, the arts do – and must – flourish.  Some might say that they are essential for our survival.  One last quote from the article, which I think conveys one of the great truths about art:

When we witness the transformation of raw material into something beautiful, we are encouraged to remember that other new realities can be made—that perhaps justice can be created where there is injustice, wholeness can be wrought where there is disease and poverty, and community can be made even from discord. Beauty not only suggests these ideals are possible, but it also awakens a longing for them.