Robert Lax Talks About Art as a Guide to Love and Understanding

Robert Lax in conversation with Michael N. McGregor, March 12, 1996 (an excerpt):

RL: I think that evolution, and all of history, moves through three classical stages: from power to wisdom to love.  The ultimate one is love.  You can say the reason for gaining some power is so you can gain some wisdom; the reason for gaining some wisdom is so you can finally understand or live in a state of love.  We talk about going from earth to paradise and we think of paradise as being the whole kingdom of love.

MM: So where does art fit into that movement?  What is the purpose of art?

RL: Well, I’ll talk figuratively for a second.  Just as Virgil could lead Dante into hell and up as far as he could, and Beatrice could lead Dante the rest of the way up to heaven, art is a guide.  Art is a bridge or a guide that leads you along to upper levels.  It doesn’t drag you along by any means.  At most it coaxes you or invites you.  You might think, if you’d never seen any art or read any poetry, that your dreams and things that go beyond the ordinary were yours alone, and you might consider them a problem.  Or you might consider your reactions to what someone said, which seemed so elaborate and so much beyond what, in the ordinary course of things, you’d expect them to be—she slammed the door; she didn’t slam the door, she just shut it a little quietly but still I’ve been thinking about it all day, the way she closed that door—if you’re alone with those thoughts and have no art to open up that world to you, you could be in trouble.  But fortunately somebody learned to write about these things.  Somebody learned to put them on stage.  That helps the whole community know how to understand those moments—not just to deal with them but to understand and even appreciate them.

MM: I’m thinking about that phrase from Blake: the doors of perception.  Is that what you’re talking about with art?

RL: Yes.  I think that’s very apropos.  I think that’s exactly it.