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The Responsibility and Duty Artists Have Carry on Their Shoulders

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An Artists Obligation

It is the duty of an artist to create art in response to the political world, injustices and humanitarian issues. This applies to all forms of art including music, photography, painting, dance, film, performance art, visual art, new media and sculpture, to name a few. Artists always have been and continue to be an integral part of society, as their work not only serves as historical records but their powerful expressions can inspire individuals to drive change. Most of all, art depicting topics such as political injustices, discrimination, gender inequalities, sexism, gun violence, racism and human rights violations brings awareness and educates individuals. There must be awareness before change.

Art is a powerful form of communication. In today’s rapidly changing and fastmoving world, information and images speed by our eyes and race in and out of our consciousness in mere seconds. While we all must advocate for the world we live in, a gripping work of art portraying political and social injustices can stop an individual and make them think. The escalation in gun violence, discrimination and racism has intensified the art-activism relationship, especially since the election of President Trump. “The most direct activists believe that all times call for art that’s as explicitly connected as possible”, according to Nelson Pressley’s article “Why artists become activists: It’s not only the election”. Artists have been motivated to create explicit and shocking images in response to the increase in these issues and injustices. Artists have a responsibility to respond to political and social events, it is their role to galvanize and educate.

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One reason that art should be created in response to political and social injustices is because it is a historical record, providing compelling and visual reminders to society. As Amy Pleasant describes in her article, “Art as Activists: Pursuing Social Injustice”. Throughout history, art has reflected its time. Art mirrors the aesthetic standard of the day and also provides a window into the historical context of the time. Works such as Andy Warhol’s, Big Electric Chair or Picasso’s Guernica serve as iconic reminders and powerful statements on social issues of their time. Artists often see their place to provoke, to voice, to enlighten.

Art is a powerful tool to educate society about the past. It serves as a history lesson and preservation of culture. The article, “Five Reasons Why We Need Art” states: “Art documents events and experiences and allows us a richer understanding of history. Art reflects cultural values, beliefs and identity and helps to preserve the many different communities that make up our world”. Art plays a critical role in preserving history and allows us a window into the past in a powerful way. It doesn’t simply capture a moment, arts as a historical record can take individuals to that time and summon emotions individuals, as though they were present at time. The Dust Bowl photograph of poverty stricken, mother of three, Florence Owen Thompson is a galvanizing image that portrays the depth of despair and shame of migrant workers during the Great Depression. This image was particularly impactful to me personally and as a result of it, I sought to learn more about and educate myself about Dust Bowl and the plight of those affected. Example such as this are reasons why artists must be part of the discourse and respond to social injustices and world events.

Political art inspires and encourages change; can be the catalyst for change. It can serve to begin a dialogue about serious issues.. Educate. Inform. Artists allow the public to see different perspectives of a given issue that needs attention. Political art can transcend polarities and rediscover our common humanity. As Karen Gutfreund believes: “There is much that is needed to be said, to make people stop, look and listen, to confront social injustice issues. Art can often say what words cannot. We want to bring powerful artwork to the general public that reflects on these issues and encourages change.” (Art as Activists). As stated in Evelyn Bertrand’s article, “In order to change people, we have to reach out to them a deeper, more emotional level” and that “creative resistance has been used time and again for change”. Bertrand also cites the Center for Artistic Activism: “Throughout history, the most effective political actors have married the arts with campaigns for social change. While Martin Luther King Jr is now largely remembered for his example of moral courage, social movement historian Doug McAdam’s estimation of King’s “genius for strategic dramaturgy,” likely better explains the success of his campaigns.” It’s the obligation of an artist to create works response to the world around them because it can elicit an emotional response and in doing so, can be the catalyst for action and change in individuals.

The most important reason why artists should create art in response to political and social issues is because it is a powerful form of communication that serves to make people and society aware. Before there can be change, there must be awareness. Art, in all forms, changes you when you allow it in. Due to advancement in technology, the world is changing at an incredibly rapid pace, like never before, live and the world has greater visibility and instant visibility to everything happening in the world, at their fingertips, they can access everything, including seeing social injustices, humanitarian issues. Instant access. Instant access to live footage and images that can shock one to the core. “According to scientists, the age of smartphones has left humans with such a short attention span even a goldfish can hold a thought for longer.” (Humans have shorter). Most established artists have a significant number of followers and therefore, the work they produce gets more attention. With social media, works get spread instantly, internally. Art can open a dialogue. Consciousness, different point of view. Art activism one of the most potent ways to get attention and bring awareness, therefore, it’s critical artists are part of the discourse in the world and shape creations in response to it.

Some may disagree with the position that it’s an artist’s responsibility to respond to injustice, insisting this is not the role of an artist in society. “Art with an agenda is rarely good art. The only obligation that art bears is to enable its audience to reflect more profoundly on what it means to be here in the world” as Kelly Grovier describes in “Should Art be More Political”. The art world’s desire to make a statement has increased, and it stands to be seen if this political high alert produces good art, or art that will do any good. More often than not, it can birth truly awful pieces. Misinformed art with an agenda risks becoming propaganda.

Fawzia Khan describes in his article “Against Political Art”: Art can inform people; information can evoke real thought or conversation and possibilities. Most importantly, informing a people keeps their mind open to change. The moment art starts to persuade instead of inform the people, it risks turning into propaganda. To persuade someone is to remove from them the right to understand reality the way it is. Images and symbols make it easier for less-educated populations to understand the skewed reality being presented to them and accept beliefs that are far from normal. The biggest case in point would be anti-Semitic art that circulated during the Second World War.

“Politics is everywhere in today’s art, if we know how to detect and decode it”. (Should Art). It is the responsibility of artists to response to social and political injustice in the world. We all must advocate for the world we live in. We all do. The times we live in are so horrible, the news so unbearable, that it seems strange the so little contemporary art deals with the shocking imagery of our age. As Bob and Roberta Smith RA describe in their article “Should Art be More Political” But great art is always political. Great art has to say something, and that something is often mind-bending, earth-shaking and epoch-altering. Take, for instance, Goya’s The Horrors of War, Picasso’s Guernica, Louise Bourgeois’ Cell or John Heartfield’s collages that warned of the rise of Nazism Or J.M.W. Turner RA, who showed us not only dying slaves thrown from ships to drown close to port, but also wives picking through the corpses of their husbands killed on the plains of Waterloo.

Art is a way of communicating and touching individuals, reaching individuals. It’s the artist role to make statements, express themselves, make viewers question themselves. They have a platform to reach large groups of people and should do so to. Art can reflect pain, anguis, grief, the complexity of racial divide. Profound effects of a moment or scene that can make you think further about it. To protect our society and make it more democratic, artists’ diverse, angry voices must be celebrated and heard. We need art to understand and to share our individual and shared history. Creative resistance has been used time and time again for change. We must advocate for the world we live in but the artists duty to create works in response to the world around them.


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