30 March, 2010

Joseph Conrad and the Purpose of Art

Today, I taught Joseph Conrad's Preface to his The Nigger of the "Narcissus" to my students. While I wish Conrad would give more credence to the pursuit of Truth, I find myself drawn to the conclusion of Conrad's analysis of art and its purpose:

And so it is with the workman of art. Art is long and life is short, and success
is very far off. And thus, doubtful of strength to travel so far, we talk a little
about the aim--the aim of art, which, like life itself, is inspiring, difficult--
obscured by mists. It is not in the clear logic of a triumphant conclusion; it is
not in the unveiling of one of those heartless secrets which are called the Laws
of Nature. It is not less great, but only more difficult.

To arrest, for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the
earth, and compel men entranced by the sight of distant goals to glance for
a moment at the surrounding vision of form and colour, of sunshine and shad-
ows; to make them pause for a look, for a sigh, for a smile--such is the aim,
difficult and evanescent, and reserved only for a very few to achieve. But some-
times, by the deserving and the fortunate, even that task is accomplished. And
when it is accomplished--behold!--all the truth of life is there: a moment of
vision, a sigh, a smile--and the return to an eternal rest.

A discussion of the benefits of both engaging art and pursuing an education rooted in the gifts of the Lutheran tradition and the rigors of the liberal arts should include their shared ability to encourage students to stop as they pursue ends such as a career, and see the world differently than they have previously. To paraphrase Conrad, when our education makes us see differently, perhaps we can begin to glimpse the Truth for which we have forgotten to ask.

1 comment:

Amberg said...

I prepared a response to this post on my own blog: