500 Words: Art after Auschwitz

I just finished Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture  In it he makes a passing reference to a quote “there is no poetry after Auschwitz.”  I’ll look up the quote later today, but it gave me an epiphany.

Classical arts people (Especially Classical Music) are wringing their hands of late, because their art form has lost resonance with the American people.

Please know that the rest of this post is complete speculation. Here goes: Much of the support of for Classical music in America comes from a worldview that sees the sophisticated beauty of classical music as transformative, this view motivates philanthropists to bring the music “to the lower classes that they might be reformed” – in St. Louis, there is an organization called the MUNY.  It was formed generations ago as the Municipal Opera Company of St. Louis to bring High Art to the Lower Classes. Since its inception there have always been free seats (initially the entire venue, now just the last 10 rows).  My sense is that these groups were formed with an air towards building a socialistic utopia- where educated, cultured, working class folks, went the factory, then picnicked in the park before taking the family to the opera.   It’s a wonderful vision for urban life.   The remnant of this viewpoint can still be seen in certain phrases when arts people talk about doing performances for urban schoolchildren.

What Happened?   World War II (i.e. Auschwitz)

The dream of that urban utopia full of masses reformed by art and education died in a gas chamber in Europe.   Hitler, after all, was also keen on building a certain kind of urban utopia.    Classical music in America has always been seen as a little High Brow, and many of the metanarratives that drove the support, development, and audience interest in Classical Music died in World War II.

If free opera doesn’t create an urban utopia, Why have it?

More importantly- if these pieces of music are written to celebrate the wonderfulness of human nature, and social triumphs and harmony, what good are they after seeing the horrors of the Holocaust?

More on this later.