“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”
-John F. Kennedy
With these words in mind, it’s important to understand the role art plays in our society, in our world. It’s not just another pastime for eccentric youths willing to sell themselves out for a big name in an obscure art gallery. It’s not the washed out musicians hoping to please the crowds with the same old recycled sound. Art is so much more than those typical manifestations of what we see in our chaotic and fast-paced society where nobody seems to really take time out to enjoy little things like the painting hanging in the lobby wall, or perhaps even the beautifully written prose sitting on the bookshelf. Art is an expression of ones emotions through a means of creative and constructive mediums, as well as the sharing of an idea or thought through many forms whether it be painting, dancing, writing or even spoken word.
What our world oftentimes fails to emphasize is that it is in human nature to appreciate artwork, and to relate to what the artwork is trying to convey. Humans are empathetic beings who find a reflection of themselves in art. That sad poem you read once may have a totally different meaning for somebody else, and the symbolism you find in the sunset of a painting may be lost to someone different, but all in all the connection is there.
When this outlet is taken away, when we vent our frustrations into conflict and chaos, all seems lost. In some places around the world children are led to believe that there is no outlet for their bottled up feelings, and instead of picking up the paintbrush, or the pen, they arm themselves with destructive mediums when all it took was some patience and a constructive approach to showing others how they felt.
Something that society oftentimes fails to see is the positive effects art has had and could have on our problems, social, political and even emotional. We look upon artists who express themselves in ‘undesirable’ ways a distraction. We think of the art programs at our school a waste of funding and a waste of time, and those who wish to make a living off of a passion that drives them to do what they love are not respected in the same light as say a doctor or a lawyer.
Countless times in history, artists have banded together to move and shake their societies and push for change, or even to share their opinions on important issues. For instance, in Brazil before the Fifa World Cup this summer, several artists continued to fill the walls of Rio de Janeiro with graffiti depicting the poor of Brazil and how hosting the World Cup would be destructive to the livelihoods of the already destitute populous. Another example is the political murals in Northern Ireland, usually depicting the history of the Irish struggle for independence, but also protesting injustices like the detainment of presumably innocent leaders and most recently, the mass slaughter of innocent civilians in Gaza.
Moreover, it’s not just paintings that qualify as art, it’s music and poetry and prose as well. Many times we have seen in history the effects that literature has had in trying to invoke a certain feeling in the people, to try and get them to think and feel in a way that allowed them constructive outlets instead of destructive ones. A prime example is the banning of the book All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque in Nazi Germany because it had a strong anti-war sentiment, and would have had a powerful effect on readers faced with the decision to join in on the wholesale invasion and bloodshed or to stay out of an unjust conflict. Following the slow but eventual rebellion in Germany of WWII, youth began to defy the status quo by listening to swing music and dancing dances such as the jitterbug, rather than enlisting for the army and fighting for the slaughter of millions.
To get straight to the heart of what I’m trying to say, the world needs art not because it’s a tool to make the world beautiful or interesting, but because it gives us humans the ability to appreciate the ideas of others and to connect with the work of artists in all forms. If we gave it a chance to flourish it would give way to a whole new wave of protests, changes and expression. We might actually stand a chance against bearing arms and resorting to futile violence to vent our emotions. We could even get others thinking with our protests of expression rather than protests of force. It would give us something to appreciate in an often overlooked aspect of our culture, the finer aspect of art.