Friday, April 12, 2013

from The Way of Imagination

by Scott Russell Sanders
We cannot know for certain how our actions will affect our descendants or
our fellow species, but science helps us make an informed projection; we cannotknow unerringly the right way to act, but compassion offers us the surest guide.No matter how clear the evidence from science and the testimony from ethics,however, if we are to grapple with climate disruption and other global crises,we also need the active sympathy and imaginative energy aroused in us by art.To be sure, much recent art discourages us from imagining a “more perfect”world. Turn on television, visit the cinema, or open a best-selling novel andyou’re likely to encounter stories about people stalking, robbing, murdering, orotherwise harming one another. You’ll meet far more narcissists than altruists,more desperadoes than healers, more warriors than peacemakers. That popularart deals in such fare is not surprising. Physical threats seize our attention, forobvious evolutionary reasons. Strife and destruction are more dramatic than
harmony or healing. In art, as in politics, fear is easier to evoke than hope.
But the greatest art, while acknowledging the world’s brokenness and our
own flaws, conveys glimpses of a potential wholeness, in ourselves and in theworld. One of our names for that tantalizing wholeness is beauty. Glimpsing it in poetry or pottery, hearing it in symphonies or songs, we long to makesomething beautiful ourselves, to lead more beautiful lives.

We yearn to walk in beauty, as the Navajo say. Great art reveals that
beauty is not a superficial trait but the expression of a fundamental force 
running through the cosmos, including our own depths. This is a healing 
force,manifest in the way scattered elements gather into stars, debris 
from super-novas gathers into organisms, organisms form communities—
and in the way
our two-legged kind shapes Earth’s materials into art. What we call
is a human expression of the shaping force at work in the universe.
The universe was not fashioned all at once, with its present distribution
of species and stars. It has unfolded over billions of years and is unfolding 
still,and so is our understanding of how it works and what our role in it 
might be.Everything we presently behold, no matter how far-flung and 
scattered it mayappear, is part of a single flow that generates new forms—
forms that cohere forshorter or longer periods and then give way to new, 
generally more complexones. On Earth, at least, this dynamic unity has 
produced organisms capableof responding to the creativity of the universe 
with creations of their own. Wepaint and sing and dance and write because 
we are moved by the artfulness ofnature. We can perceive the deep affinity 
between the glaze on a bowl and theiridescence of a butterfly’s wing, 
between a ballerina’s pirouette and the swirlof a spiral galaxy. In light of 
our gifts, it is neither impractical nor utopian forus to imagine leading 
more beautiful lives, forming a more perfect society, oralleviating the 
suffering and fostering the happiness of strangers not yet born.
Like the universe, we are still unfolding. What we become, what we make of
ourselves and our world, will be shaped by many factors, but by none more
powerful than imagination.

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