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In Stillness and Community

The Power of Art

--by John F. Kennedy (Aug 31, 2015)


Strength takes many forms, and the most obvious forms are not always the most significant. The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the Nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us. […]

Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.

The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state… In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role.

If sometimes our great artist have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth… In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society — in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having "nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope."

US President John F. Kennedy's remarks at Amherst College.

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5 Previous Reflections:

 
On Sep 1, 2015 Shirley Weeks wrote:

Art is the expression of the soul. We need to stop restricting it to a few discrete areas valuable as they are. Art belongs to each individual. It is one of the prime methods of connection - the essence of humanity



On Aug 29, 2015 Sara wrote:

 Poetry as a refuge for inner reflection. The reflections arising from this reading are related to a dimension of power only accessible through the indulgence of poetry. Envisioning the reality where we support, even encourage, our leaders -- and ourselves! -- to each practice the art of our souls, be it through words or images or movement, etc... It feels like it would mean allowing this luxury, acknowledging the inherent value of each heart's individual expression towards development of more full, and thus stronger, outcomes. Tangibly what comes to mind is the work of Paulo Freire, a 20th century Brazilian educator/activist known for his commitment to social justice & grass-roots transformation, and of Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater director / activist. While my working knowledge of their work is still quite limited, what speaks strongly to me about it is the hands-on aspect of engaging with individuals, role-playing new responses that transcend the cycle of Oppression /  See full.

 Poetry as a refuge for inner reflection. The reflections arising from this reading are related to a dimension of power only accessible through the indulgence of poetry. Envisioning the reality where we support, even encourage, our leaders -- and ourselves! -- to each practice the art of our souls, be it through words or images or movement, etc... It feels like it would mean allowing this luxury, acknowledging the inherent value of each heart's individual expression towards development of more full, and thus stronger, outcomes.

Tangibly what comes to mind is the work of Paulo Freire, a 20th century Brazilian educator/activist known for his commitment to social justice & grass-roots transformation, and of Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater director / activist. While my working knowledge of their work is still quite limited, what speaks strongly to me about it is the hands-on aspect of engaging with individuals, role-playing new responses that transcend the cycle of Oppression / oppressors / oppressed ....

Main message: the power of the practice of art of transcend.

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On Aug 29, 2015 david doane wrote:

I don't know if it's true or not, but I once heard it credited to activist Dan Berrigan that he said when tyrants took over a country, the first thing they did was cut off the fingers of the poets.  It makes sense -- the tyrant doesn't want free thinking, truth telling artists stirring up problems.  The artist expresses what he sees, in the way that he sees it, in whatever medium he happens to be using.  He expresses his vision.  The artist is also being a prophet, challenging the status quo by expressing his truth.  Real art comes from the real self, from deep inside, not from the head but from the spirit or soul.  The artist is inspired and creative, expressing his truth from his spirit or soul in his own unique way.  When I do that, I am being an artist.  My medium seems to be words, either written or spoken.  There have been times I have been true to my real self through my words, and when I am I feel a deep satisfaction, whether what I  See full.

I don't know if it's true or not, but I once heard it credited to activist Dan Berrigan that he said when tyrants took over a country, the first thing they did was cut off the fingers of the poets.  It makes sense -- the tyrant doesn't want free thinking, truth telling artists stirring up problems.  The artist expresses what he sees, in the way that he sees it, in whatever medium he happens to be using.  He expresses his vision.  The artist is also being a prophet, challenging the status quo by expressing his truth.  Real art comes from the real self, from deep inside, not from the head but from the spirit or soul.  The artist is inspired and creative, expressing his truth from his spirit or soul in his own unique way.  When I do that, I am being an artist.  My medium seems to be words, either written or spoken.  There have been times I have been true to my real self through my words, and when I am I feel a deep satisfaction, whether what I say or write is rejected or accepted.  I recognize my artist self by knowing that my vision, my experience, my truth is unique and special, as is everyone's, and if I don't express it, it will never be expressed, and my knowing that helps me to honor it.

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On Aug 28, 2015 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

The Sanskrit word for the poet is arshadrushta- one who has a  clear sight and has a clear vision of the future. It is like seeing through the "third eye". She lives in the present, knows the downside of the power, is aware of social injustice but is not imprisoned by the short and narrow vision. What she says, writes and stands for may not be popular and may go against the prevailing societal currents. They have clear inner vision and inner strength. They blaze a new trail. Art, like  strength, takes different forms. There is the art of living- living a life founded on a cosmic vision of living. A living that goes beyond the self-serving, self-centered, greed-based, power and fame hungry, my is the only right way and others are ignorant, stupid and inferior. Such narrow and short sighted vision has damaged the lives of people, nations and life in nature.We are blessed to have visionary people with cosmic consciousness to help us expand our conscious  See full.

The Sanskrit word for the poet is arshadrushta- one who has a  clear sight and has a clear vision of the future. It is like seeing through the "third eye". She lives in the present, knows the downside of the power, is aware of social injustice but is not imprisoned by the short and narrow vision. What she says, writes and stands for may not be popular and may go against the prevailing societal currents. They have clear inner vision and inner strength. They blaze a new trail.

Art, like  strength, takes different forms. There is the art of living- living a life founded on a cosmic vision of living. A living that goes beyond the self-serving, self-centered, greed-based, power and fame hungry, my is the only right way and others are ignorant, stupid and inferior. Such narrow and short sighted vision has damaged the lives of people, nations and life in nature.We are blessed to have visionary people with cosmic consciousness to help us expand our consciousness. Such visionary people at times are crucified. They leave inspiring footprints on the sands of time. I am blessed to  experience the presence of such highly evolved beings like Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Anandimaiya to name a few.

All of us have the potential  to be such artists.We are in the process of evolving. There are times when we wake up and start walking on that path and feel deeply connected with the higher level of consciousness. And some times we go back to the same old way of living, going back to sleep.

May we have the vision and courage to go beyond the limited and limiting way of seeing and living!

Jagdish P Dave



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On Aug 28, 2015 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 wow, the timing is perfect as I fly out to Burning Man today! <3 The highest duty of an artist is to remain true to oneself means to me to have the courage and integrity to speak, paint, dance, sing one's truth no matter how unpopular it may be; in fact it is most important when it may be the most difficult to do. I strive to be true to myself, my heart through my art of Storytelling. I have had so many occasions in which courage was required including in Belize where I had created & facilitated a volunteer literacy project. It was popular among the teachers and Principals but not so among the Ministry of Education who I suppose may have felt a threat. At one point they tried to shut down my project, but I did not give up. I learned later that the government at that time in Belize was quite corrupt and had an interest in the people remaining illiterate. I also learned that the indigenous legends I was helping to reclaim for the teachers had been banned from use in the sch  See full.

 wow, the timing is perfect as I fly out to Burning Man today! <3 The highest duty of an artist is to remain true to oneself means to me to have the courage and integrity to speak, paint, dance, sing one's truth no matter how unpopular it may be; in fact it is most important when it may be the most difficult to do. I strive to be true to myself, my heart through my art of Storytelling. I have had so many occasions in which courage was required including in Belize where I had created & facilitated a volunteer literacy project. It was popular among the teachers and Principals but not so among the Ministry of Education who I suppose may have felt a threat. At one point they tried to shut down my project, but I did not give up. I learned later that the government at that time in Belize was quite corrupt and had an interest in the people remaining illiterate. I also learned that the indigenous legends I was helping to reclaim for the teachers had been banned from use in the schools; there were many factors as to why including British colonization and also several religions (from the outside) being the main source of schooling; without fully understanding the legends the religious groups chose to ban them from schools rather than embrace the culture. At any rate, the teachers & Principals saw that the students connected deeply to the legends and to the lesson plans we developed together and I continued on often through the backdoor to get into a school to be able to share the program. In the end it was worth it as 33,000 students received the program for free and 800+ teachers were trained in how to use their own cultural stories in their schools. If I had given up because the path I chose was a slippery slope the students and teachers would have lost out on an important piece of their history and culture.
nearly a decade later a few of the teachers still email me to tell me they are using their own legends and the lessons and training other teachers. I am so grateful for the art of Storytelling to share Stories which need to be told. This also brings to mind having the honor to present in Iran this past February at a time when there was no diplomatic relationship between the US and Iran; we used Story as a bridge toward peace and understanding. So very grateful! Thank you for letting me share. Hugs to you all! Here's to all the arts to bring us together to speak about topics we need to address and to shine light on the dark.

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