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 I decided (finally) to go for it.

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this modern glitch.

Posts : 4574
Join date : 2010-02-21
Age : 25
Location : A hole in the bottom of the sea.
House : Ravenclaw and Burkenshire

PostSubject: I decided (finally) to go for it.   Wed May 26, 2010 6:36 pm

This is my English exam paper. I've been debating on putting it up or not for a while now--on the one hand, I worked really hard on it, and I'm proud of it, in an English paper kind of way. On the other hand, it IS an English paper, so it's not exciting or creative writing. It's an essay, a formal paper, which really is not the kind of thing I really show you guys. After all, who wants to read a long, boring English paper? However, Moony insisted she would read it, and it DOES get Ravenclaw points, which we definitely need, so I decided to go ahead and post it.

NOTE: The works cited is not attached, because no one actually reads that. I used in-work citations according to the MLA format.

Art as Truth

Benjamin Constant said, “Art for art's sake, with no purpose, for any purpose perverts art. But art achieves a purpose which is not its own” (Constant 1). Many writers have set out to achieve the goal of conveying a purpose within their literary art, through themes and satire. However, in the poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the nineteenth century Romantic poet John Keats establishes the roles that art itself plays, by describing the images on an elaborately decorated urn inspired by the Elgin Marbles exhibit of the British Museum. Keats tells about the two images of rustic ancient Greece depicted on the urn: on one side is a picnic scene with music playing and a young boy chasing after a girl to kiss her; on the other side, a cow is being led to be sacrificed to the gods. In both pictures, Keats uses the qualities of the urn to show the roles art plays. First, art serves as a historian, as it tells about the times in which it was created. On the urn is the idea of sacrificing to the Greek gods, an important concept at the time of the urn’s creation. Art also creates permanence, preserving its image until the day it exists no longer. Similarly, the art also functions to freeze a particular moment in time. Keats says that on the urn, the young boy will never catch the young girl, and that he will never get the kiss that he wants, but that he will always be happy, laughing and out of breath, chasing after her. Art stimulates the brain, inspiring an observer to ask questions and to picture for himself the circumstances that lead up to the situations displayed. The last role that Keats discusses, however, and the most thought-provoking, is summed up by a simple statement: “Beauty is truth, / truth beauty” (Keats 49). Keats shows that one of art’s most valuable roles is to reveal the truths that cannot be shown otherwise, and that the art is beautiful by virtue of conveying these truths. Many works of art of various genres reveal truths about the world through aesthetic beauty.

The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years by Edgar Degas shows truth in the graceful, beautiful form of a young dancer. Edgar Degas, a French painter and sculptor, was born into an affluent French family in 1834. His style was strongly influenced by Italian artists, especially those from the Renaissance period. Abraham A. Davidson in the article “Degas, Hilaire Germain Edgar (1834-1917)” tells that Degas was considered an Impressionist painter due to “his concentration on scenes of contemporary life and his desire to capture the transitory movement,” but that he “surpassed them in compositional sense” (1). This superb composition is visible in all of his works, but is especially apparent in his works pertaining to the ballet. Degas was entranced by the ballet, and as Davidson states, “Degas was especially attracted by the spectacle of the ballet with its elegance of costume and scenery, its movement which was at once spontaneous and restrained, its artificial lighting, and its unusual viewpoints” (2). Much of Degas’s art revolves around ballerinas, and according to the article “Degas and the Dance (Reviews)” in Contemporary Review, “…Over half of his artistic input was devoted to the ballet” (Contemporary Review 1). The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years is one Degas’s most popular sculptures of ballerinas, due to the realism of the piece. Degas first made a wax depiction of the subject—a young, fourteen-year-old ballet dancer—in the nude. Next, he added the dancer’s own clothing and real hair to make the sculpture look even more like a real ballerina. The amazing realism of the statue helps to convey the truths that Degas intended to reach his audience. After Degas’s death, his heirs made nearly 30 bronze casts, which can be found in art museums all over the world (including the St. Louis Art Museum); however, despite the metal exterior, the realism in the expression and features of the ballerina convey the original message of Degas. The statue depicts the dancer as she truly is; Davidson says that Degas’s art depicting ballerinas “strips the dancers of glamour and sometimes reveals them as scrawny adolescents” (Davidson 3). Although The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years is artistically unique and beautiful, Degas does not aim to idealize the life of a ballerina dancer, but to show how difficult of a profession it is, especially for such young girls. Degas shows the truth of the stress in the life of a ballet dancer, both in the facial expression and in the pose of the dancer. The title of the work reveals that the girl is only fourteen years old, but Degas’s depiction makes her seem older, showing the taxing nature of her job. Through this aesthetically beautiful piece of art, Degas shows the truths of pain and stress of ballet training on young girls, and the human feelings of the real person behind the mask of the structured, difficult dance.

The musical adaption of the book Les Misérables uses the beauty of music and acting to deliver truth in the form of important themes. Les Misérables was originally written as a book by Victor Hugo. The story is set during the French Revolution, a bloody, terrible civil war that took place from 1787-1799. The story centers on a few memorable major characters. Jean Valjean is an unjustly persecuted convict who helps Fantine, a poor mother forced by her poverty into prostitution (and eventually into death), by taking in Cosette, Fantine’s compassionate daughter. Cosette later falls in love with Marius, a young student and revolutionary. Victor Hugo’s story was not well accepted by critics at the time it was published. Leo Suavage says in his article “Les Misérables” that, “Not everyone admired the novel upon its appearance in 1863…Gustave Flaubert, for instance, pronounced it ‘childish’” (Suavage 2). However, it was not the opinion of the critics that made Les Misérables the success it was—the novel was very popular with the common people. Alain Boublil and Claude-Michael Schönberg saw the lasting impact of the book, and in 1985, they made it into a musical. The musical, like the book, received poor reviews from the critics, but is still a well-loved story to many today. According to the article entitled “Les Misérables: General Information,” the musical has played in 41 countries and 291 cities throughout the world and is the third-longest running musical on Broadway (1). The musical version is not as harsh of an image of the times as the novel; Suavage says that the novel “exaggerates the mean to the point of hellishness and makes the good into pure heaven” (Suavage 2). However, the musical has an extra beauty and depth through the music and the theatrical aspects which allow it to convey the same messages as Victor Hugo does in his novel. Les Misérables depicts the French Revolution honestly, and although certain characters, such as Marius, idealize the struggle, in the end, the truths of brutality and the harshness of war become clear. Also, the musical does a beautiful job of presenting the historical truths of war and revolution in a way that is personal, creating an emotional response in the audience. This is made especially evident in Suavage’s statement that “…Les Misérables is full of sentimentality and heroics, of indignation and protest” (Suavage 2). The truths of death and war are not diluted or hidden, but are portrayed in a way that causes the audience to think and respond as individuals. The convicts, many of which are imprisoned on false charges, demonstrate perfectly the constant threat of unjust death in the lyrics of the song “Chain Gang” by Herbert Kretemer, singing, “You'll always be a slave. Look down, look down, you're standing in your grave” (Kretemer 1). However, the musical portrays hardships outside of the political realm, as well. The characters must deal with the issues of prostitution, death, and degradation of the lower classes, all of which were important issues both during the lives of the French people the late eighteenth century and during the lives of people today. The characters are realistic, but have a depth that allows them to draw attention to the symbolic truth that each embodies. For example, the character Marius represents the revolutionary idealism and hope of youth. He meets with other young students and receives the news that an important general for the French monarchy has died, leading to the executing of the fight he has longed for. In the musical number “Do You Hear the People Sing?” by Herbert Kretemer, the lyrics “When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is live about to start when the morning comes!” (Kretemer 1) shows the pervading opinion that the youths can make a difference and change the rule of France. The story within Les Misérables is powerful enough standing alone, but when combined with such powerful lyrics and music, as well as other visual effects, the written word causes the audience to consider the message behind the story to see the truth.

Lastly, the song Eleanor Rigby by the popular band The Beatles uses its beautiful but somber tone and lyrics to convey truths. The Beatles were formed in Liverpool, England, in 1960 and began to make records two years later. The Beatles rose to fame very rapidly; as Terry Teachout said in his article “The Beatles Now,” “Almost from the time they began making records in 1962, their music was taken seriously—and praised enthusiastically…” (Teachout 1). “Beatle mania,” as the somewhat fanatical fandom following of the band became known as, spread rapidly, not just in England, but in the United States as well. According to Michael Karwowski in the article “Fifty Years of British Popular Culture,” the popularity of the Beatles was due to the fact that they “made ‘rock’ accessible to the masses” (Karwowski 4). Eleanor Rigby is one of the songs that exemplifies this idea perfectly. Eleanor Rigby was released on August 5, 1966 on the album Revolver, as well as on a double A-side single with “Yellow Submarine.” Revolver is still a very popular, influential album, but even still, Eleanor Rigby stands out. Teachout says:
The most artistically successful [album] was Revolver (1966), in which the playing of classical horn soloist Alan Civil and the string and brass sections heard on ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Got to Get You into My Life’ are combined with a dazzlingly varied assortment of studio-crafted effects (Teachout 3-4).
Eleanor Rigby’s release marked the beginning of a new era for the Beatles. As the article “Eleanor Rigby Was Daisy First” in the St. Petersburg Times says, Eleanor Rigby “told a somber story about lonely people and unfulfilled dreams, and also foreshadowed a transition of the Beatles from a light pop group to a more serious, introspective band” (1). Eleanor Rigby is a serious, solemn song, which discusses the theme of solitude through the characters of Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie, two people identified almost entirely by their lack of human companionship. The musical aspect of Eleanor Rigby mirrors the tenor of the lyrics, with a beautiful yet simple background of string instruments. The somber orchestral sound strengthens the message of the song by bringing focus to the lyrics, and the message they carry. Paul McCartney and John Lennon are very effective in conveying the universal truth of loneliness in the lyrics of the song, with words such as, “Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came” (Lennon and McCartney 1). McCartney and Lennon’s well-written beautiful lyrics bring up questions about humanity that are valuable and thought-provoking, asking “All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” (Lennon and McCartney 1). The exquisite writing and delivery of the lyrics causes the listener to ponder the message and consider the misery of the characters mentioned both in the song and in the rest of the world. The contrast with many of the other popular Beatles songs, which frequently revolve around love and happiness, makes the message even more drastic and visible. The unique sound and message of Eleanor Rigby conveys messages about life and loneliness which still make an impression on listeners today.

Many works of art of various genres reveal truths about the world through aesthetic beauty. Although the truths can be difficult to confront, dealing with bothersome, sad, or horrifying themes, art has always served a role in bringing attention to issues which might otherwise be overlooked or misrepresented, in the eyes of the artist. Although the different mediums and genres of art function differently, appealing to different senses and conveying messages in a different manner, all art has the ability to carry truth and to cause the viewer, or the listener, to think. Even in the increasingly fast-paced, mechanized world of today, art has the ability to carry truth, although the truths conveyed in many of the popular songs and works of literature may not be the traditional, conventional truths of the past generations. Each work of art presents its own unique view of the world, and a perspective that the author wants to reveal to the community of the world. While the truths may be harder to find in the art of today, they are in a way much more easily accessed, due to the internet and the increasing technology. Artists, whether they are painters, writers, musicians, or actors, can spread their message much more easily than in the past, allowing their ideas and the truths they hold to be important to spread on a global scale in a way that no other generation would have ever thought possible. The views of beauty may have changed, and the important truths may have changed, but the ability of art to make a person think and question the ways of the world will never fade.
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