Monday, June 20, 2005

Art as a catalyst for change

I found this on the “Bare And Bitter Sleep” blog Carolyn linked to. This is an excerpt, but the whole discussion was interesting (see link below.)

“I still think that if you want to create tangible change in the world, art is an incredibly inefficient way to do that. Art is good for a lot of things--revelation, meditation, self-reflection, communication of ideas, documentation, enlightenment, etc., etc.,--political change is not one of the things it's good at. For that, better to go with direct action, like voting or bombing something.
I guess I'm saying that it's totally legitimate for us as artists to understand our art as part of some larger resistance or subversion, but I think it's grandiose of us to think that some painting we hang in a gallery is going to end poverty or bring down corporate greed.”

Posted by: MAZE on Tue, 6/7/05 | 10:47 PM

While I agree that immediate results can be achieved by “voting or bombing,” I disagree that art is inefficient at changing human culture. It just doesn’t use the same methods as other types of revolution. Sure, it’s unlikely that George W. Bush will see a painting that will change his mind about global warming or the so-called war on terror and cause our government to alter its practices, but this does not mean that art is ineffective at political change. There are many, many people besides those in power who see and are affected by art. Among them: voters, teachers, journalists, activists, small business owners, children, and countless others, all of whom in ways small and large impact our local communities and the world. A work of art and its meaning may simmer in the sub conscience of a society until it is acted upon. Art may add depth and clarity of purpose to a movement already festering. Who would argue that film, television, and news media don’t shape our perception and world understanding? If a powerful painting were seen by as many people, why would it be any different?

Certainly, it’s a stretch to point to one single work of art as having changed the world. Nor can one point to any one single event or person as having accomplished that. The root of all change is a (grass-roots) movement: monotheism, democracy, industrialization, environmentalism; the list throughout history is immense. All of these have art as an integral part, directly or not, because art is a part of all human endeavors. The blogger quoted above admits this, but still counts art as an ineffective tool. But what inspires these movements? Often, a work of art (here I use art in the broad sense) provides a rallying point for a diverse set of views; a specific and simple image around which ideas can coalesce.

Those in power, the decision-makers, much as we hate to admit it, are there by our acquiescence. We are the ones with the real power; even though it’s easy to feel helpless in this complex, impersonal society, we are only as helpless as we allow ourselves to be. If an artist wants to stir up change, but decides art can’t be an effective medium, then it won’t be. I think the real issue today is not “Can art change the world?” but “How can my art be heard in an over-saturated culture?” But if I knew the answer to that, I’d be rich.

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