Tuesday, 21 Mar 2023

Opinion | Finding Refuge, and More, in the Arts

More from our inbox:

To the Editor:

Re “The Power of Art in a Political Age,” by David Brooks (column, March 5):

Like Mr. Brooks, I often feel that “I’m in a daily struggle not to become a shallower version of myself.” As a teenager, I lose track of my own thoughts in the flood of videos and headlines. Also like Mr. Brooks, I turn to art to quiet these imposing distractions.

However, I have found myself doubting whether art is worthwhile. Despite the wonder I feel when experiencing art, I often find myself questioning the merit of spending any time reveling in paintings or poems when I could be spending all my energy working at things that have a greater visible impact.

But then I remember, as Mr. Brooks has reminded me, that to experience art is to feel your aliveness in a tangible way. So thank you, Mr. Brooks, for reminding me that sometimes, as the poet Mary Oliver says, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves” — that I can let myself love art and know it is a beautiful act in and of itself.

Grace Anne Jones
Santa Cruz, Calif.

To the Editor:

David Brooks cites the strong feelings we have when experiencing a profound and meaningful work of art. Therefore, as a lifelong arts administrator, I am always dismayed by the lack of respect and funding our field must grapple with on a daily basis.

The arts inspire love of learning, bring diverse groups of people together, are our greatest treasures housed in our most iconic buildings, and encourage tourism and the discovery of new places and traditions. Art endures from generation to generation to generation. Sounds like a worthy investment to me!

Karen Brooks Hopkins
The writer is president emerita of the Brooklyn Academy of Music and senior adviser to the Onassis Foundation.

To the Editor:

David Brooks writes that “art teaches you to see the world through the eyes of another, often a person who sees more deeply than you do.”

Yes, absolutely — a poignant fact continually discovered by thoughtful and wise people throughout the ages.

The cultural critic John Ruskin wrote in 1885: “Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts — the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others; but of the three, the only trustworthy one is the last.”

The brilliant interviewer Terry Gross, in a 2015 profile in The New York Times Magazine, said she loved interviewing artists because they are ‘‘the people we designate to open up their lives for examination so we can understand better who we are.’’

We need art. Art shows us our strengths and our weaknesses. Art speaks truth to power.

Susan Calza
Montpelier, Vt.
The writer is a visual artist and gallery owner.

To the Editor:

Firsthand experience of art is an important antidote to the adverse effects of digital technology. It has the power to return those entranced by this technology to a palpable sense of knowing and understanding the world, others and self. The digital world has a grip on countless lives and contributes significantly to the politicization of culture.

But as an artist I must take issue with David Brooks’s implication that the arts are a way to, however briefly, escape the new technology and politics. Rather, the arts offer ways to engage with the world, imaginatively, intellectually, morally and sometimes politically. Art offers a way to experience our humanity in deeper and perhaps more comprehensive ways.

We need to be wary of digital technology and the wholesale politicization of life. But we cannot look to art as merely some safe haven.

Paul Forte
Wakefield, R.I.

To the Editor:

David Brooks’s column is deeply profound and moving. I hope to follow his advice and devote more attention to art and less to politics or digital distractions.

His invocation of Picasso’s “Guernica” had a special resonance for me. I am not particularly well informed about art, and was even less so in 1963 on my first visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City at age 21.

But I will never forget the emotional surge I felt on entering a room on the third floor and seeing “Guernica,” which I had not heard of before. It was a totally unexpected experience for a work of art to instantly arouse such intense feelings.

Philip Allen
Stony Brook, N.Y.

A Thumbs Down for the Term ‘Latinx’

To the Editor:

Re “Repudiation for Term ‘Latinx’ From Both Sides of the Aisle” (front page, March 2):

I am a college-educated Mexican American, and I strongly object to the term Latinx. Not one Mexican American I know — and I know a lot of them — uses this truly insulting term.

Most of us do not use this term and do not like it, and many of us are absolutely offended by it. Please do not use it to describe my people.

Anthony J. Mireles
Calumet City, Ill.
The writer is a historian and author.

To the Editor:

While I applaud the attempt to find a non-gender-specific way to refer to people of Spanish-speaking Latin American origin, Latinx is a poor choice.

How would anyone of any ethnic background like to be referred to with a word ending in an “x”? It’s insulting, and it isn’t a plural. As one friend put it, “It makes us sound like aliens from another planet.”

I happen to be a Spanish speaker, and when I have tried out the word Latines instead of Latinx on my friends in the Hispanic world, here and abroad, they have universally celebrated it as a way to be adequately non-gender-specific and not insulting. Let’s go for Latines!

Michael Rockland
Morristown, N.J.
The writer is emeritus professor of American studies at Rutgers University.

The Role of Disinformation in Asian Americans’ Rightward Shift

To the Editor:

Re “Where New York’s Asian Neighborhoods Shifted to the Right” (news article, nytimes.com, March 5):

Asian Americans are a critical, diverse and often overlooked voting bloc on the national stage. While multiple factors are at play in the rightward shift you write about, missing from the article is the role of disinformation on platforms like WhatsApp.

Often used by first- and second-generation Americans who still have family in other parts of the world, the app fomented confusion around the 2020 election (not unlike Facebook or Twitter), and surely still plays a role in informing voters, especially middle-aged and older ones.

Crime rates and “culture wars” may be influencing their votes, but where, how and from whom are they getting this information?

Manisha Sunil

Altering Art

To the Editor:

Re “The Truth About the ‘Censorship’ of Roald Dahl,” by Matthew Walther (Opinion guest essay, March 5):

Why does anyone have a right to alter an artist’s work? Besides the absurdity of imposing modern values on an earlier time, the practice shows a profound disrespect for artistic integrity.

It’s true that we would never have had the novels of Franz Kafka had Max Brod not disregarded the author’s wishes to have his manuscripts burned upon his death.

That aside, no one — however well intentioned — is entitled to change a writer’s creation once the writer is no longer able to speak for, in Dahl’s case, himself.

Bruce Weinstein
New York

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