It Is the Artists of This World, the Feelers and Thinkers, Who Will Ultimately Save Us

Leonard Bernstein? Apocryphal?

tanglewood08Dear Quote Investigator: The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of societal upheaval and uncertainty in the United States. The prominent conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein who was well-known for crafting the music of “West Side Story” delivered a speech during which he asserted that only the artists of the world could save the world. I would like to include an excerpt from the speech in a book, but I have not been able to trace it. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: On June 28, 1970 Leonard Bernstein gave an address at the opening exercises of the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts, and shortly afterward excerpts were printed in “The Boston Globe”. The article title mentioned Bernstein’s theme of hope and the artist’s role in a chaotic world: 1

It is the artists of this world, the feelers and thinkers, who will ultimately save us, who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing, and shout the big dreams. Only the artists can turn the “not-yet” into reality.

How do you do it? Find out what you can do well, uniquely well, and then do it for all you’re worth. And I don’t mean “doing your own thing” in the hip sense. That’s passivity, that’s dropping out, that’s not doing anything. I’m talking about doing, which means serving your community, whether it’s a tiny town or six continents.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In March 1975 high school artists were honored with awards during a “Gold Key Ceremony” held in Faneuil Hall in Boston, Massachusetts. The heartfelt words of Bernstein were slightly modified by the speaker: “this world” was changed to “the world”: 2

Quoting Leonard Bernstein, Dr. Norton said: “It is the artists of the world, the feelers and thinkers, who will ultimately save us, who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing, and shout the big dreams. Only the artists can turn the not-yet into reality.”

In 1982 a collection of private notes, letters, essays, and speeches by Bernstein was published under the title “Findings”, and a version of the address at Tanglewood was included. “The Boston Globe” printed extensive excerpts from the book in November: 3

It’s true that we have to work faster and harder if we’re going to take our next social step before the overkill stops us dead in our tracks; but if anybody can do it, faster and harder and better, it’s you, the best generation in history.

And especially you here today, artists of that generation. Because it’s the artists of the world, the feelers and the thinkers, who will ultimately save us, who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing and shout the big dreams. Only the artists can turn the “Not-Yet” into reality.

In conclusion, Leonard Bernstein did speak about the unique importance of artists in society who are able to articulate and “shout the big dreams”. QI suggests using the text in the nearly contemporaneous 1970 citation or the 1982 collection.

Image Notes: Portrait of Leonard Bernstein by Carl Van Vechten circa 1944 from Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons. The Boston Pops at Tanglewood in Massachusetts via Wikimedia Commons. Image was created by Matt H. Wade; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Nicole Romine whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1970 July 05, Boston Globe, Bernstein’s message: hope: Tanglewood address stresses artist’s role in chaotic world by Leonard Bernstein (Advisor to Tanglewood, Conductor Laureate, New York Philharmonic), (Extracts from an address given at the opening exercises at Tanglewood, June 28, 1970), Start Page A19, Quote Page A22, Column 8, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  2. 1975 March 2, Boston Globe, 400 students honored in Globe art contest, Quote Page 41, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  3. 1982 November 21, Boston Globe Words and Music by Leonard Bernstein: Excerpts from Findings, Start Page SM9, Quote Page SM42, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)