The Power of Art
12th January 2023
‘Art is power. It can influence perception, opinion and values’. ‘Art touches the soul…art is communication…’ (Nina Baldwin)
‘I think Art is a very important weapon to achieve human freedom’. (Ai Weiwei)
HOM: Responding with wonderment and awe/Creating, imagining, innovating
One of the most powerful pieces of art ever created is Guernica. It was painted by Pablo Picasso to highlight the horrors of the Spanish civil war. The grey, black and white painting, on a canvas 11ft 5inches (3.45m) tall and 25ft 6inches (7.76m) across, portrays the suffering wrought by violence and chaos. Prominent in the composition are a gored horse, a bull, screaming women, a dead baby, a dismembered soldier and flames. This is the destruction of the Basque city of Guernica, bombed by the German and Italian fascists at the behest of Spanish nationalists. It was displayed in art venues around the world to raise money for Spanish war relief. And as a protest against the atrocities of war, it remains as powerful as ever, communicating that which is often beyond words.
The power of art is such that some art and indeed artists become banned because what they are expressing is considered subversive in the countries in which they live. Ai Weiwei is a case in point. He is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist who has been openly critical of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights. Ai Weiwei sees that ‘Art is a very important weapon to achieve human freedom’. He now lives in Europe.
Artists (not only visual artists) seek to articulate new ways of seeing and quite often they challenge and shake up our perceptions and raise questions. That is their power, and why governments may often seek to control or limit them. It is also one reason why the creative arts are so important in education and for the flourishing of a free society.
However, the power of art also lies in its ability to offer personal consolation by articulating the human condition so we do not feel alone. Philosopher Alain de Botton writes:
‘…What we encounter in works of art and philosophy are objective versions of our own pains and struggles, evoked and defined in sound, language or image. Artists and philosophers not only show us what we have felt, they present our experiences more poignantly and intelligently than we have been able; they give shape to aspects of our lives that we recognize as our own, yet could never have understood so clearly on our own. They explain our condition to us, and thereby help us to be less lonely with, and confused by it. We may be obliged to continue burrowing underground, but through creative works, we can at least acquire moments of insight into our woes, which spare us feelings of alarm and isolation…’
Art may of course be simply beautiful with a power to move us away from our present concerns and inspire us in new and surprising ways. And it can also be used in healing particularly for those struggling with emotional or mental health issues.
As Nina Baldwin writes ‘Art touches the soul…it is communication’ and a powerful language that we can all learn to appreciate and treasure.