I am a beneficiary of liberal arts education and an ardent fan and advocate of it. However, it’s hard to describe the value of liberal arts education. Then, I encountered the following statements from poet Mary Oliver.
“I quickly found for myself two such blessings—the natural world, and the world of writing: literature. These were the gates through which I vanished from a difficult place.
In the first of these—the natural world—I felt at ease; nature was full of beauty and interest and mystery, also good and bad luck, but never misuse. The second world—the world of literature—offered me, besides the pleasures of form, the sustentation of empathy (the first step of what Keats called negative capability) and I ran for it. I relaxed in it. I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything—other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned: that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness—the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books—can re-dignify the worst-stung heart” (p15. Mary Oliver’s Upstream).
Vanishing from one’s humdrum routine and connecting with or being someone else. It’s something that a billion dollar job cannot do, but a worn-out book can do. Or a piece of music could do it too.
Welcoming an ever-increasing emphasis on STEM education, I also hope that it does not expel literature and music education from curriculum. Although they appear amorphous and resist any metrics for measuring their values, literature and music education add layers and dimensions to our inner world. They enrich and expand our multi-dimensional life. No wonder why there is no space in our one-dimensional resume for the experience we got from literature and music. Because it cannot.
Here’s another statement that caught my ear resonating the same theme:
“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said ‘Listening to great music is a shattering experience, throwing the soul into an encounter with an aspect of reality to which the mind can never relate itself adequately. Such experiences undermine conceit and complacency and may even induce a sense of contrition and a readiness for repentance. I am neither a musician nor an expert on music. But the shattering experience of music has been a challenge to my thinking on ultimate issues. I spend my life working with thoughts. And one problem that gives me no rest is: do these thoughts ever rise to the heights reached by authentic music?‘” (From https://www.onbeing.org/programs/alice-parker-singing-companionable-arts/)
Photo by Ginny / CC BY-SA 2.0