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The Buckeye Beat

April 8, 2023

The Buckeye Beat

Headshot of Professor Emeritus Donald Harris

Donald Harris: "Is Art Essential?"

Michael Ibrahim's April "Buckeye Beat" blog post pays tribute to Donald Harris (1931–2016) — a former music composition faculty member and Dean of the College of the Arts at Ohio State, who made extraordinary contributions to both the university and to the field of music. Read the full post here.

"In our staff office, we have a powerful and timeless article by Harris titled 'Is Art Essential?' which was originally published in the college’s Arts Advocate issue of 1998. 

In summary, Harris explores the question of the role of art in a world that is riddled with socio-economic problems such as poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. Harris outlines that although art cannot eliminate these problems, it plays a significant role in teaching us about the feelings, emotions and ideas of other cultures, societies and civilizations. Art can motivate us to resolve issues of social inequality, and artists have often taken political positions that have been borne out by history. Harris believes that the value of art lies elsewhere and that it should not be viewed solely as a tool for solving socio-economic issues.

According to Harris, art has an urgency and a value that is independent of socio-economic problems. He argues that art teaches us to be tolerant and understand others by highlighting our differences and similarities, which is an important by-product of artistic expression. Further, art is not simply entertainment but is enlightening and reflective of life. Through art, we can learn more about ourselves and our societies, and we can personalize our own identities and differentiate ourselves from others. Harris concludes that art is essential because it possesses an inherent value that extends beyond socio-economic issues. Through it, we can learn important lessons about ourselves and our lived environments. We develop our own identities and differentiate ourselves from others. Through art, Harris asserts, we can learn important lessons about ourselves and our societies, and become more tolerant and empathetic towards others."

The Buckeye Beat: A Monthly Blog from Michael Ibrahim, Director of the School of Music