“Art should grow from and speak to the common roots and universal principles of human nature in all cultures.
“Art should deny the simplifications of the political Left and Right, and should refine and deepen the radical center.
“The function of art is to create beauty.
“Art recognizes the tragic and terrible costs of human civilization, but does not abandon hope and faith in the civilizing process.
“Beauty is the opposite of coercive political power.
“We should restore reverence for the grace and beauty of human beings and of the rest of nature.”
These aphorisms are taken from a larger “artistic and literary manifesto” that was produced by “a group of artists, poets, composers, and other makers” nearly 25 years ago. They intended to articulate a more robust understanding of the arts in relation to society, of beauty in relation to civilization, and of the past in relation to the future. With several principles under each of seven headings, Frederick Turner has done us a great service including this manifesto in his book, The Culture of Hope. A much needed message at this challenging time in our nation’s history.
Turner is a brilliant poet, whose critique of the cultural divide from 25 years ago remains powerfully prescient, for he understood the importance of our human longing for beauty, goodness, and truth. If we are to recover a vision capable of sustaining our nation’s ethos—e pluribus unum—we must, in Turner’s phrasing, recover those transcendent principles: “We must evoke [truth, goodness, and beauty] by educating our conscience and our intuition of truth; most important of all, and for our very survival, we must cultivate our taste.”
At a time when life and death, justice and racism, politics and demagoguery are at the forefront of our national consciousness, it may seem naïve and idyllic to suggest that the cultivation of taste would have any bearing on this confusing and convulsive moment. Yet, it may be that beauty must break through the ugly reality and disordered features of our society to provide us genuine hope for the future.
Or, as Turner suggests in his poem “On the Anthropic Principle,” this very moment in time is linked to all that we derive from the past, yet, at the same time, it provides a future generation with the sources for their own flourishing, as they learn from those who have gone before them. More eloquently crafted by Turner: “And if this moment is the spring of what / Will one day call our moments into being, / They walk among us, potent, lovely, not / Yet born, and shape our seasons with their seeing.”
Which causes me to reconsider our current moment in light of its true potential for good.
Dr. Frederick Turner is Founders Professor at the University of Texas—Dallas and an Academic Advisor to the Institute for Classical Education. Dr. Turner’s command of the classical tradition and his extraordinary gift as an epic poet (cf. Genesis) provide an essential example of a classical educator whose work enriches and beautifies our world.