UNESCO-NIE Centre for Arts Research in Education (CARE)

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Title of Proceedings: 
2009 De La Salle University (DLSU) Arts Congress, Manila Philippines
Year of publication: 
Country of publication: 
City of publication: 
Month of Conference: 
February 2009
Name(s) of Author/Editor(s): 
Sidney C. Diamante
Email of Author/Editor(s): 

Art is the creative output of individuals. Individuals are organized into societies. Societies survive within environments. This paper examines how society serves as a link between the seemingly unrelated spheres of the arts and the environment. Using Plato’s concept of a good society as a model for the art-individual-environment relationship, this paper dissects 1.) the role the artist plays in and 2.) the impact of the artist’s profession on society. A corollary of this premise is (3.)) the artist’s capacity for advocacy, in this case regarding environmental issues.

This paper focuses on professional classical musicians, whose role in society is an issue rarely addressed today. While literary and visual art and socially aware popular music have all established themselves as stalwarts of activism when the times call for it, the domain of classical music—art music, as its proponents regard it, but ironically whose contemporaneous relevance is not readily discernible—has opted for silence.

Aristotle (Nichomachean Ethics) warns us of the dangers of opting for music as a profession. While acknowledging the significance of music in early education, he discourages pursuing music as a career due to its propensity to reduce a citizen to the level of a laborer. Given the way in which the ancient Greeks exalted the thinker, why such a simile was considered degrading is no surprise. As is the case with Aristotle, this paper illustrates general trends rather than dwell on the exceptions.

Pursuit of classical musicianship as a profession demands years of relentless training, and often a very early head start if one is determined to carve a name for oneself in the field. Hence, there is very little time that is not consumed by practicing, and thus lessening opportunities to develop other aspects of life. In addition to this, classical musicians move within a circle composed of fellow musicians and music enthusiasts, creating a sheltered sub-society that prevents development of a social consciousness. Ironically, it is this social consciousness that instills in a person awareness of the problems our environment, the environment in which all societies and sub-societies survive, now faces. Equivalently, failure to develop such consciousness results in indifference to the environment.

Conservatory instructors appear not to challenge their students to examine their role in society, hindering the development of social-environmental consciousness and a spirit of activism. Remedying this situation involves an upheaval of the attitudes fostered by the conservatory. Students and teachers alike must be taught that the pedestal on which they put their profession is an illusion, that they have a responsibility to society and the environment by virtue of their being alive. Musicians began to be treated as artists in the mid-eighteenth century; until then music as a profession was regarded as one that talented individuals engaged in to earn their keep. Similarly, non-Western societies regard music not as an art form, but as an aspect of everyday life. Such practical views are needed today if musicians are to harness their “artisthood” and contribute to solutions to environmental problems.

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