Can art do anything, especially during periods of crisis? In 1967, George Steiner wrote a famous essay about the deficiencies of art in the wake of the Holocaust. He argued that if a concentration camp commander could read Goethe and Rilke in the evening and still go about their duties at Auschwitz each day, then art had failed in its highest function, which he defined as the ability to humanise. The problem with this argument is that it implies for art to be successful it must act as a magic bullet, effortlessly reorganising moral faculties; in effect obliterating free will.
Art can’t forcibly induce a change in behaviour. It’s not a re-education pill. Empathy is not something that happens to us when we read War and Peace. It’s work, for which art can, however, provide us with radiant materials. Art can’t win an election or bring down a president. It can’t stop the climate crisis, cure a virus or raise the dead. What it can do is serve as an antidote to times of chaos. It can be a route to clarity, and it can be a force of resistance and repair, providing new registers, new languages in which to think.
One of the problems with the internet as a source of information is that there is no end, no definitive conclusion to be reached. You travel link by link, pursuing digressions and counter-claims, interrupted by continuous breaking updates. The novel, by contrast, is a technology of orderly revelation, slowing and speeding time so as to trace connections and consequences down into hours, minutes, seconds, or out into decades, even centuries.
- How did George Steiner see the role of art in times of crises?
- What does induce mean in this sentence? " Art can't forcibly induce a change in behaviors."
- What can art do?
- What makes the internet problematic?
- Which of the following words means the ability to understand and share another's feelings?