Winter across the vast expanse of the plains states is bare; it is not bleak. There’s too much necessary rejuvenation occurring in those fallow fields of snow and corn-stalk stubble to call it bleak, but it is spare and severe. It was against that backdrop that ten years ago, while driving across Ohio, I saw something wonderful and astonishing: barn art. I saw it on I-71 north of Columbus, Ohio, and then again on I-70 east of Dayton. It was Ohio-centric art in celebration of its bicentennial in 2003, and it was amazing.
The role of art in our society and its impact on us both individually and collectively has long been deliberated. Auden famously said that “Art accomplishes nothing,” while, at the other extreme, Abraham Lincoln, upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, allegedly said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.” Of course, Uncle Tom’s Cabin did not make the Civil War: one half of our country allowing one race of people to own another race, and Lincoln’s refusal to let that continue, is what made that war. But it is fair to wonder and speculate on art’s effect in our world. My Dante professor in graduate school once told us of some famous London conductor who, during the German blitz of…