PROF JENKINS: Conservatives must not abandon the arts

What, after all, are we 'conserving' if not the best that humankind has ever thought and created? Much of what passes for 'art' these days, produced almost entire by leftists, is simplistic, uninspired, even—dare I say it?—ugly.

Rob Jenkins is a Higher Education Fellow with Campus Reform and a tenured associate professor of English at Georgia State University - Perimeter College. In a career spanning more than three decades at five different institutions, he has served as a head men’s basketball coach, an athletic director, a department chair, and an academic dean, as well as a faculty member. Jenkins’ opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a 900-year-old Norman church in the Cotswold village of Chipping Norton (United Kingdom), listening to a professional string quartet play selections from Beethoven and Haydn.

As the majestic architecture drew my eye upward, and the heavenly strains filled my ears—and my soul—two thoughts came to mind. The first was that, with all our amazing technology—we can erect soaring skyscrapers, create cities in the desert, send people into outer space—we no longer seem able to build anything like that timeless structure. Or if we can, for whatever reason, we don’t.

Similarly, we now have robots that can create music—but no one, apparently, who can write music like that. Despite all the “progress” humanity has made over the past however many centuries, something vital seems to have been lost to us.

The other thing I couldn’t help noticing was that, although there was a decent-sized crowd in attendance, I didn’t see any young people—not a single person under 50, as far as I could tell. This suggests that young people are not only abandoning their religious faith, but they’re also forsaking the arts in their purest form.

For conservatives, that should not be. What, after all, are we “conserving” if not the best that humankind has ever thought and created? Much of what passes for “art” these days, produced almost entire by leftists, is simplistic, uninspired, even—dare I say it?—ugly.

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Keats was right: ‘Beauty is truth”—and the Left’s ongoing attacks on the latter are simultaneously attacks on the former.

Yet there is a strain of thought on the Right that suggests the only knowledge worth pursuing is that which results in a high-paying job. Hence the frequent advice to conservative college students to major in something “practical,” like engineering, accounting, or business, while avoiding “pointless” majors like music or literature. 

I’m not saying you should major in music. It’s true: It’s hard to earn a living in that field. I gave much the same advice to my bookish son who was thinking about studying English.

But that doesn’t mean we should abandon the arts altogether, relinquishing music, poetry, and painting to the Left, which is thoroughly debasing them as it debases everything. What we need is a conservative renaissance, led by young people who love and value the arts and who are dedicated to the pursuit of beauty and excellence. 

That will no doubt require some level of formal training, which could be problematic given the utter capture of our university art, literature, and music departments by Marxist philistines. But perhaps, if you have talent and a burning desire to pursue the arts as a career, you can find professors on campus who still embrace classical methods and concepts.

Alternatively, you could enroll at a religious institution where professors are more likely to share your values. The list of Christian colleges with top-notch arts programs includes big-name universities like Liberty and Grand Canyon as well as lesser-known schools like Messiah College in Pennsylvania and Bryan College in Tennessee.

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However, to truly bring about this renaissance, we need more than just a handful of conservative artists. We need young people who have cultivated an appreciation for the arts. Again, this might entail taking formal classes, electives like literature and art appreciation. But once again, you have to be very careful in your choice of professors, or else you’re just going to fed a constant diet of bad art and Marxist swill.

Another solution—and perhaps a more viable one, depending on your circumstances—is to intentionally immerse yourself in the arts on your own. That is, read great poetry and novels. Visit art museums. Attend classical concerts. Mix some Mozart into your play list.

I’m no expert on either music or the visual arts, but if you’re looking for reading recommendations, you can’t go wrong with Shakespeare. You may already be familiar with Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, but if you haven’t read King Lear, start there. It’s one of the Bard’s most underappreciated plays, despite being one of his most modern.

As for novels, I highly recommend anything by Dickens and Jane Austen. And don’t overlook American classics like Huckleberry Finn, Gone with the Wind, and To Kill a Mockingbird. All will give you a deeper understanding of the human condition, which is what great art is supposed to do.

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.