Of all the freedoms that we have and which we try to respect, freedom of speech is the most difficult to fully understand. Laws have been passed about inciting violence as well as a law to help determine what are “hate” crimes, both of which can relate directly to free speech. This  is tricky territory and yet it is clear that “free” speech can be incendiary. In a democracy, the debates about free speech are a constant.

The value of free speech was not lost on 18th century writers. Consequently, much of the satire of the early periodicals such as “The Spectator” or the “Gentleman’s Magazine” were usually quite gentle and often published anonymously. The aim was more to poke fun at the powers that be rather than to directly criticize them, an ill advised strategy in a monarchical society. Displeasing the King was just too dangerous and a writer’s chance of earning a living, just too tenuous.

The subtlety of what free speech really embraces is often lost in social media venues. Between blatant vulgarity and wolf pack political correctness, free speech becomes a standard that has no standard. We are all allowed to pontificate endlessly and yet, without doubt, it beats living in Russia or China. It is truly a cherished freedom, but one that is cloudy and opaque even at the best of times. We should consider ourselves very lucky indeed.

I heard a line in a movie the other day stating that art was spiritually “transcendent”.  It may be for many, but I believe that art is more about  leaving your mark. I can certainly enjoy it and be enraptured by it, but I get no spiritual exaltation out of it. I have that from nature, even in New York City where a quick look at the East River riptide or a walk through Central Park can inspire me in a way that no piece of art can.

This isn’t to say that art can’t be sublime or revealing. No matter what, I see art as communication of where we have been and, to some extent, where we are going. It doesn’t really matter if it is an Easter Island sculpture, Cycladic figurine or even a Jackson Pollack drip painting. They are all cultural statements about a moment in time and, if the creator is lucky enough, they gain a sense of permanence that few other things connected with civilization have.

Some people will say that things speak to them, something I cannot deny. I greatly enjoy looking at antique furniture that was well made and maintained all of its existence. These objects reveal themselves the more you look at them, but even then, their essence is real, not spiritual. It is possibly why I find myself in complete wonder at the veneration of religious symbols—they are, after all, made by man. But that is what makes a horse race. We all worship different things.