Philosophy of Art
A personal view from Freelance
member Ferial Evans
Tessa Jowell was appointed to the position of Minister for Leisure
and Sport she quipped that she was the, 'Minister of Fun'. Light
hearted this may have been, but it does reflect a feeling that the
arts are considered less important than the more serious matters
of state. Where other State departments can be underpinned and their
performance measured, the arts are intangible. The influence of
art over all areas of life is unquantifiable. Entertainment in leisure
time plays only a small part. Art can stimulate and help us to understand
new and established ideas and ways of living. Art can encourage
us to think, even if it is to disagree with the concept which it
puts before us. In times of crisis it can bring succour and comfort.
Advertising is an all-embracing element of everyday life in a free
and vibrant society. It is essential for Government and all its
departments in their campaigns to convince us all that they are
acting in our best interests. Is important for charities; when a
well-designed poster or leaflet depicting a child or an animal in
distress can motivate us to give. Graffiti can also be stimulating.
A slogan scrawled across a wall may be very provocative whether
for good or ill.
Visual art, drama, music, dance, literature, poetry; they all have
their part to play in shaping our lives. In the extreme, this can
be devastating. In New York and Washington on 11th September the
men that carried out the atrocities would have been nurtured by
poetry and prayer to believe that they would have eternal glory
by the side of Allah. The victims of this terrible tragedy; all
those relatives and friends so closely touched, were comforted by
poetry and prose, by symbolic acts of remembrance and ceremony.
In times of war, art in all its graphic detail, is the greatest
incitement to action. We all know the World War One poster of the
soldier with the finger pointing out of the picture with the slogan,
"Your Country Needs You". The figure with the pointing finger appeared
in other guises in other countries with a similar message. We all
know what carnage this enticement to arms caused.
Times of crisis usually bring out the best in people and they want
to pull together. Artistic campaigns for positive action can help
give focus and direction. The "Dig for Victory" campaign helped
the people in the British Isles keep fit and healthy throughout
World War Two. Art can create icons and Che Guevara may not have
achieved cult status had it not been for that broody photograph
of his face in shadow.
War artists, photographers and writers can help us to understand
the harsh realities and complexities of strife and conflict. Writing
maybe factual or fiction but the important thing is that it conveys
the message. One author wrote a first hand account of his horrific
experiences in a concentration camp in the last war. The book had
great impact but it was later discovered to be a deception. The
conditions which he described were, nonetheless, factual. Was he
to be condemned, or could he be forgiven because in this way, his
story had the greatest impact?
With a knowledge of the history of warfare, we should be able to
recognise the aggressive side of human nature and work to avoid
conflict. Sadly, the evil side of art, the negative propaganda which
incites men to violence, is too strong.
From time-immemorial we have covered ourselves with war paint, sung
war chants, danced round totem poles. Remember the Hitler youth
rallies and the mass singing, all designed to stir fierce aggression
towards the supposed enemy? Sadly, hostility and violence are twin
elements that we can never eradicate from the souls of humankind.
At what ever time that you read this there will be areas of war
and conflict around the world and the evil face of art will have
been instrumental in stirring up the aggression.
We all need faith to live by, even if not in an organised religious
faith, it is in our own view of the world and how we relate to it.
Religious art in all the faiths of the world brings spiritual comfort
and beauty into the lives of the faithful. The art which adorns
places of worship can be simple in its beauty or it can be breathtaking.
The architecture of these buildings can be truly inspiring. Acts
of faith; religious services really are works of art. True faith
with all its artistic beauty helps shape and give direction to the
lives of the faithful. Religious literature can engender an awareness
of our moral responsibility in life. It can open our eyes to a wider
world and it encourages kindness and compassion.
If only it were all such perfection, but there is a down side. All
down the ages religion has been peppered with bigotry and dogma.
Some who consider that theirs is the only true faith have oppressed
the sinner and the infidel. There have been terrible atrocities
in the name of religion from the dawn of history to the present
day. People who have suffered religious persecution have suffered
invasion, torture, diaspora or displacement and mass-migration.
Sadly it is religious art of the worse kind which has helped shape
the mind set of the dogmatist and the bigot.
In normal times, the arts help shape our lives in subtle ways. We
read books and creative articles in newspapers and magazines. Some
of us see drama at the theatre or the cinema or we listen to the
radio. Beautiful music can inspire and comfort us. The written and
spoken word will help us to form our ideas. It does not necessarily
persuade us; it may help us to form an opposite view. There are
notorious examples of public art, such as those entered for the
Turner prize, which cause derision or outrage. The media has a field
day, the artists are dismissed as charlatans and the art, a sham.
True art it may not be, but it may have stimulated discussion on
the artistry of life and what it means to us. In our everyday lives,
we often need ideas and concepts explained to us. Here visual art
can be the pie-chart of the balance sheet. It is much easier to
understand a picture or a diagram than a list of facts and figures.
We do not actually have to have any interest in the arts at all
for it to be entwined into the fabric of our lives.
Our government has decreed that every council in the country should
establish a cultural strategy. The key is to bring art to the people
but this will only be effective if it is art that people will relate
to and enjoy. The National Lottery has experienced some disasters
because it did not learn this lesson. Witness the Millennium Dome
Folly. It has been more usual for funding to go to institutions
where art is exhibited for the observer. It is sensible for those
that administer arts funding to think carefully about the conditions
which they set on their awards. One cinema owner in a small town
applied for and obtained a lottery grant. One condition of this
grant was that he should include art films in his regular programmes.
Alas, he had to decline the award because he knew the character
of the area and that when he was showing the art films, nobody would
come and the cinema would lose vital revenue.
Should arts administrators redefine the boundaries? Whilst the arts
for the observer need and deserve support for all our enjoyment,
much more emphasis should be given to people participation projects.
The arts are for the people and by the people.
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