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Art and Great Books

Gutenberg has from its inception taught several courses on the arts. One could ask, “Why does a college whose curriculum centers on the great books concern itself with art?” Quite simply it is because the leadership and faculty of the college recognize the unique and powerful role the arts have played in human culture and consciousness from ancient times.

From earliest historical reckonings, humans have used instruments, languages, and creative symbols to communicate their interpretations of their world, their needs, their aspirations, and their deepest longings and feelings about themselves and the beautiful but often threatening world about them. Art, then—in music, painting, as well as literature, poetry, and theater—is a form of human communication that we use “to mirror life” to ourselves and to others. Along these lines, art historian and critic Allen Leepa comments:

When art fails to mirror life, it fails as art. Mirroring life, however, does not mean copying it. The artist does not merely set down a photographic record of his times. Rather, he reflects in this work the tempo, attitudes, aims, hopes, tensions, successes and failures of his era. He transposes these through his work. Because he is a member of society, he intuitively expresses its heartbeat. And when he works creatively he indicates to society a spiritually new direction. One has but to walk through one of our great museums to realize the feelings and ideas—the way of life—that were important, consciously and unconsciously, to the people of a particular epoch.

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