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Art and Music: Benefits to Society Essay

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Updated: Aug 18th, 2021

Some people in general society may look at art such as Marcel Duchamp’s postmodern ‘sculpture’ entitled “Fountain”, which is, in reality, little more than a functioning urinal placed in a museum setting, and have serious doubts as to whether or not art can benefit society in any meaningful way. And, in this case, this is indeed the question. Duchamp, in presenting this piece, was asking society the question what exactly does constitute art – the form, the function, the setting or something else more sublime.

Without knowing the context beyond the sculpture, it is perhaps not surprising that people might question. However, examining the various ways in which art has impacted society in the past can prove that while certain individual pieces may not reach out to everyone, art undoubtedly inspires further conversation that functions to improve the operation of society at large.

Falling Water, for example, is a house designed and constructed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) in 1935 and is considered perhaps the prime example of Wright’s architectural influence within America, as well as having paved the way for international modernism. The house was commissioned by Edgar and Lillian Kaufmann as a vacation home on some of their favorite property in Bear Run, Pennsylvania, along their favorite stream.

Although they anticipated receiving a home that afforded a wonderful view of a vigorous waterfall at one of their favorite picnic spots, Wright had other ideas in mind. Rather than constructing the traditional four-square home that observes nature from without, Wright created a structure that would provide shelter and comfort to the family, but that interacted with nature on a fundamental level. The residence is not so much a house as it is a man-made outgrowth of nature, perfectly in tune with its surroundings, able to take part in the daily occurrences of the river and thoughtful of its natural neighbors. One of the founding principles in Wright’s philosophy was a deep-seated belief in the idea of nature as sacrosanct. “Nature is not only the will of God, it’s also the only part of God we’re ever going to see,” he said during a video recording documenting his accomplishments (Iverson, 1988).

According to Wright, who grew up studying the natural forms and positions of his Wisconsin valley, everything in nature took on a form of architecture he wanted to design. “What is architecture? Architecture is the frame of life. It is the nature and substance of whatever is. The universe has a plan. Everything has its plan” (Wright cited in Iverson, 1988). To Wright, the important aspect of architecture was in providing a sense of shelter, which was a feeling as much as a form, leading to his development of the open-style prairie houses with the emphasis on the horizontal. In many ways, the architecture of Wright has helped to inform the new constructions of the postmodern age, seeking means of increasing efficiency while decreasing environmental impact.

Salvador Dali included the cliffs of his beloved Catalan Coast in many of his paintings, including his most notorious “Persistence of Memory”, not only because they were a landscape feature he was intimately familiar with, but also because they helped to represent the duality of meaning he wished to convey in his artwork. The blue plank offers a hard contrast to the softness of the blue water just as the solidness of the foreground box is sharply different from the smooth amorphous shape of the suggested sand on the beach.

A small blue rock in the mid-ground is easy to overlook, but helps reinforce the ability of a stray idea to interrupt the flow of thought. The stump of a tree that Dali identifies as an olive tree, offers a single branch as the resting place for one of the melting clocks. This olive branch is traditionally a sign of peace, perhaps offering peace in the stopping of time or peace in the ability to step into the world of dream.

Another clock melting along the side of the solid foreground box shows a different time from either of the other two visible clock faces in the painting, perhaps indicating that time has no meaning in the world of dream or perhaps indicating the changing nature of thought as one moves from one to another with no concept of the space in between. A third clock melts over the soft shape of a vaguely human half-face as it sleeps on the sand. The long eyelashes covering the eye are perhaps a reinforcement of the somewhat shaded, indecipherable nature of some dreams. Between these three clocks, one can interpret there is a time for peace, a time for hardness and a time for softness and dreams.

There exists one last watch in the painting, but this one is turned with its face down, so that it cannot be determined the time that it would reflect. The back of this clock is covered with several black ants. This is reminiscent of the busyness of the ant hill as the workers constantly scurry around searching for food for the rest of the colony. Perhaps the reason the face of this final clock cannot be seen is because it is representing the effect that time can have on the workers, forcing them to turn away from their thoughts, dreams, aspirations and desires in the never-ending struggle for survival in a harsh, undefined world. Thus, Dali explored the acceptability of dreams and the concepts of modern psychology in his artwork which became the stuff of conversation and exploration for a great number of people.

The Beatles, considered by many to be popular music’s most historically important band, continues to evoke intrigue and fascination from a social point of view while their music, even today, appeals to people of all ages more than 30 years after their last album was released.

They began their career as one type of band and ended as quite another altogether. This is the theme of their development, how they transformed from seemingly carefree suit and tie wearing lads who created innocuous, relatively simple songs to counter-culture icons widely perceived as leaders of a societal revolution. “The melodramatic ‘She’s Leaving Home’ represents the widening gap between parents and their children, a universal reality of the mid-to-late 1960’s in a song where “the string arrangement is closely related to the meaning of the text” (Thurmaier, 2003).

The enormous influence that the Beatles had on popular music and culture was and still is historically profound. They introduced the concept album and helped to bring about personal expressions into a music field that generally used a prescribed concept for song writing. The band’s evolving persona, from the original 1964 ‘Beatlemania’ days through the end of the decade, either guided or mirrored the period’s changes within society. The Beatles remained the focal point of this phenomenon, if not ahead of it, as long as they existed. The Beatles’ heritage is monumental and they are universally known to be the most influential musical artists of the last century, arguably of all time. This is because the Beatles encouraged an entire generation to imagine itself differently.

Through architecture, art and music, the new ideas of science and philosophy were explored and brought to the public attention. This public attention then generated conversation about the ideas involved. This conversation brought forward more new ideas and expanded thinking about the old ones. In many cases, it was because of the modern art and music that these ideas were made acceptable to the greater public as they were discussed and explored in both their positive and negative aspects.

Works Cited

Dali, Salvador. Persistence of Memory. [painting]. New York: Museum of Modern Art, (1931).

Iverson, L.R. “Land-use Changes in Illinois, USA: The Influence of Landscape Attributes on Current and Historical Land Use.” Landscape Ecology. Vol.. 2, N. 1, (1988): 45-61.

Thurmaier, David. “The Beatles as Musical Experimentalist.” Phi Kappa Phi Journal. (2003).

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