One great function of the arts is to keep ideals alive in a culture that does not yet realize them.

What did Susan Neiman mean by:

One great function of the arts is to keep ideals alive in a culture that does not yet realize them.


This quote emphasizes the vital role that arts play in preserving and propagating cultural ideals, particularly those that are not yet fully recognized or appreciated. Arts, in this context, can include various forms such as literature, music, visual arts, and performance arts. These forms of expression often embody and reflect the highest aspirations and deepest values of a society, serving as a mirror and a compass for cultural evolution.

The ‘ideals’ referred to in the quote can be understood as the moral, ethical, or aesthetic values that a culture aspires to uphold. These ideals might not yet be realized due to various reasons, such as societal constraints, prevailing norms, or lack of awareness. In such scenarios, the arts serve as a beacon, illuminating these ideals and keeping them in the collective consciousness of the culture.

In today’s world, this function of the arts is more relevant than ever. We live in an age of rapid change and increasing complexity, where old norms are constantly being challenged and new values are emerging. The arts can help us navigate these turbulent times by providing a platform for dialogue, reflection, and envisioning a better future.

For instance, a novel or a film that portrays a more equitable and inclusive society can inspire individuals and communities to strive towards these ideals. A piece of music or a painting that expresses the beauty of nature can awaken a deeper appreciation for our environment and motivate us to protect it.

In terms of personal development, engaging with the arts can broaden our perspectives, deepen our understanding of ourselves and others, and inspire us to strive for our highest potentials. By exposing us to diverse viewpoints and experiences, the arts can foster empathy, critical thinking, and creativity, which are essential skills for personal growth and social engagement.

In conclusion, the arts play a crucial role in keeping ideals alive in a culture, serving as a bridge between the present realities and the future possibilities. By engaging with the arts, we can contribute to the realization of these ideals in our personal lives and in our societies.

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