Join us on Wednesday, May 19, for the next Acton on Tap and a fascinating discussion about conservatives and the arts. The discussion will be led by David Michael Phelps, a writer, producer and story consultant. The event takes place from 6-8 p.m. at the Derby Station in East Grand Rapids, Mich. (Map it here.) No advance registration is required. The only cost is your food and drink.
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Background: Both Story and Syllogism. (Excerpted from “The Leaky Bucket: Why Conservatives Need to Learn the Art of Story” by David Michael Phelps in the Spring 2007 Religion & Liberty.)
If anyone doubts that those who tell the better stories have the upper hand in the arena of ideas, let him consider the recent popularity of the ONE Campaign. Is it a flash of economic enlightenment that drives the masses to Bono like sinners to the Jordan? No. While his economic patron, Jeffrey Sachs, is by no measure a lightweight, Bono owes the success of his appeals to end poverty less to his economics and more to his formidable ability as an artist to highlight the human in humanitarianism, to appeal to the narrative and emotional sensibilities of young people, to take an idea from a scholar’s head to a citizen’s heart.
Imagine, then, if sound economic (or political or social) thinking were wedded not only with the intention to act, but with Beauty, the inspiration to act. This is what the Story artist can do, if he can be given the right ideas and the trust to manifest them in Art, not propaganda. Storytellers and Artists, whether they have right ideas or not, will create. But as Chesterton said, “poetry without philosophy has only inspiration, or, in vulgar language, only wind.” So it is best that the Beauty he creates also contain Truth.
So what must happen is that those with solid ideas, derived from Syllogistic Logic, must not only educate the Artists, but also allow them to translate Syllogisms into Stories, into unified presentations of the Truth in Beauty. It is this that will achieve long lasting change in the hearts of the finicky MTV generation. Unfortunately, this can be frightening for those committed to protect right ideas, because the “coherence of a narrative … has room for freedom and thus for surprise.” Communicating with Story means one has to allow for a dramatic tension, has to allow the audience the possibility of seeing the viability of the other side of the argument. And for some, this is too risky a venture.
But here we reach a very crucial point, the point where we see that handing ideas to the Artist is not the same as handing them to the Propagandist. For the Propagandist, the message is the focus, the party line is towed without falter, and as a result, the Propagandist seldom produces Art of lasting persuasive power. For the Artist, the vehicle of the message – that is, the Art itself – is the focus, and this is precisely why Artists are so much more convincing in their work than Propagandists: Propagandists so concentrate on the water that they attend less to the holes in the bucket.Artists concentrate on making great buckets, often concerning themselves less with the contents.
Likewise, conservatives may be more apt to produce propaganda when they attempt to create Art because their ideas are often more sound than the liberal (in the modern sense) alternative and they have less need for – and therefore less incentive to learn – Story. Liberals can indulge themselves in shoddy Syllogism, because they make up for the lack with good Storytelling. But this doesn’t excuse conservatives from falling off the other side of the horse.
There a popular saying that suggests “If you are a liberal when you are young, you have no heart. If you aren’t a conservative when you are old, you have no head.” But I see no reason why must we lack one to have the other. We should have, and must communicate with, both. We must add Story to our Syllogism, adding emotional punch to our reason. After all, Socrates taught with syllogisms, and Jesus with parables.
About the Lecturer
David Michael Phelps received his master’s degree from Central Michigan University where he studied narratology and wrote his thesis on narrative screenplay adaptation. He taught literature and writing for five years before working as a producer and writer for Acton Media. He then spent two years as the Director of Development for Compass Film Academy where he oversaw an institutional redesign of the school and mentored screenwriting students.
Currently, David works as a writer and producer under the moniker Mendicant Media where he develops and produces vision, feature, and documentary films. He is currently developing a film on the Soviet Gulag with Trikirion Film Collective and consults on screenplays for 10 West Studios.
In his spare time, David is working on a book on the philosophical underpinnings of art and creativity. He is also the author of the blog, The Artistic Vocation.
David lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.