At the present time, our culture is in crisis. Let me say that in certain areas there have been significant advances, such as in technology and medicine. The fact of the matter is, however, what we may define as culture in terms of literature, philosophy, drama, painting, and certain types of music, have come to an end. This is a rather obvious fact. During the Twentieth Century there was outstanding dramatic production in both the American and English theater. Playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’ Neill, Arthur Miller, Clifford Odets, and Lillian Hellman come to mind.
Live dramatic productions have ceased and one can speculate have been replaced by television and movies. At one time, and rather recently in the 19th Century, there was a very large public audience for poetry. The most recent 20th Century poets to have a public audience were
TS Eliot and William Butler Yeats. Poetry as an artistic medium of expression directed to the wider public no longer exists. It is obvious that painting and sculpture are essentially passé, apparently replaced by other forms of imagery such as the Internet, social media, television, movies, and camera images. The novel still survives but not as it appeared in novels such as Middlemarch by George Eliot and War and Peace by Tolstoy.
It is also quite apparent that classical music has had its day, last heard by such composers as Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky. One may say that the American musical theatre from 1930 to 1955 or 1960 was a further expression of that classical musical impulse. At the present time, even that type of musical expression is gone. Most musicals on the Broadway state today consist of a redoing of older musicals.
The question that comes to mind is why so many forms of art have ceased to exist, in effect, and appeal to a very miniscule audience. I suggest two reasons for this. There has been a decline in religious belief and the Church has very little influence on the wider culture as it once did. The rhythms and drama and stories in the Bible are presently unfamiliar to a large percentage, if not most of the population. When a society has no spiritual underpinnings, one can only conclude that the expression of art and beauty will cease to exist. A purely materialistic society such as now obtains in the Western World cannot produce art and express beauty. This is speculation but there is some truth to it. We may have computers and all sorts of gadgets but apparently we cannot produce the Bachs, Mozarts, Miltons or Dantes. We do things faster but we fail to reach people in their souls. It is also significant that philosophy is no longer a part of our society as once was. Philosophy today has only an academic audience. Two important American thinkers come to mind that once had great influence and respect, John Dewey and William James, but they are no longer are paid attention to.
I proffer a second reason for this cultural decline. The education offered formerly in the
Western World is no longer literary as it once was There is an overwhelming emphasis on money and business in our educational system. When People are no longer given the literary past and have it made available to them, their minds will suffer and deteriorate in the areas I just mentioned. Reading great books or literature raises the mind to think creatively and artistically. When the system does not give our young people this food for their minds, again I think the type of artistic production I mentioned will not occur.
A final word: Many people will say that as long as I have the material goods I need and I can pay my expenses, that is all I need. The purpose of life, however, is to raise people beyond that essential and basic level of functioning. A society without music, literature, poetry, and art must and will be a very gray and dark society that at the present time we all have to suffer through and in. A society without art and beauty must create and bring about a very unhappy race of beings whose lives are most somber and lack deep meaning, depth and, in fact, love. A society without art and without beauty is a society without love and surely without God.