Well, here is a coincidence: after I blogged about the Richard Serra quote on coming to a Y in the road in Leonard Koren’s What Artists Do and how it reminded me of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” I read further into the book and came across John F. Kennedy’s speech on the role of the artist in American life. He gave it in 1963 at Amherst College for the groundbreaking of a library named in honor of… Robert Frost. Not only that, but Koren notes that Kennedy quoted “The Road Not Taken” in his remarks:
All this requires the best of all of us. And therefore, I am proud to come to this College whose graduates have recognized this obligation and to say to those who are now
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I hope that road will not be the less traveled by, and I hope your commitment to the great public interest in the years to come will be worthy of your long inheritance since your beginning.
No matter. The rest of Kennedy speech is worth reading:
The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, a lover’s quarrel with the world….
If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.
If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeish once remarked of poets, there is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style. In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society–in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may.
Read the rest here, or listen to it, below: