What are the arts for? (For the purposes of this paper, consider “arts” to be the same as visual culture and to cover anything produced with a visual design aspect to it).
Visual culture is an important aspect of any society and the arts, particularly the visual aspect have been part of man’s civilisation since time immemorial. Even the first prehistoric man used visual drawings and graphics to depict certain situations and episodes in his life and these have been preserved in caves and on buildings and artefacts which have been discovered after thousands of years. The recent centuries have seen art develop substantially and one may arrive at the conclusion that art is a representation of a particular moment and can also be described as the identity of a particular society.
Art has developed through the ages in several ways. The Egyptians for example looked at their gods and deities in a fearful manner and their depictions of them were constantly focused on power and influence. The same can be said for other civilisations of the period such as the Chinese and those coming from Mesopotamia or Babylon. Art was an important factor in these people’s lives and this certainly assisted in establishing their social structure. However one has to note that art was also an important factor in the establishment of power and influence especially in medieval times when figures of importance and of note commissioned their own portraits to serve as influence and as a way of asserting their own power.
Photography is also an important art form and although this can be doctored and arranged it has certainly developed as an important cultural tool over the years. This form of art is a useful way of recording events and historic happenings, something which used to be the prevailing domain of visual art for many centuries. Thus we have documents which are frozen in time and which bring about a misplaced sense of security and cultural affinity.
The arts are also there to create a sense of identity and national importance. First and foremost they are important tools for documentation and are also crucial for the establishment of patriotic levels.
Art is a way of expressing oneself especially with the emotions that come with it. The visual element of a portrait is an important part of that expression especially the way in which it is seen by the viewer. Other nations use art to portray a certain element of patriotism and this is clearly evident in the way nations such as Germany and Italy experienced a revival in their classical past with their Fascist and Nazi regimes.
Buildings and architecture can also be seen to be important elements of art. A typical example would be the Viceroy’s Palace in India where the sheer scale of the building demonstrates the incredible pomposity of its architect Edwin Lutyens. Here, the artistic design is a clear example of how to dominate people and the Indians certainly felt inhibited and dominated by such a vast structure.
Modern art is also important to commemorate events such as Picasso’s portrayal of the Guernica Massacre from the Spanish Civil War. Here we had the stark depiction of figures which are lying around dying and without any sort of hope while those who are carrying out the killing also look on in stark indifference. This is an incredibly powerful work that shows the destruction of violence and mass killings.
Although we do not have a depiction of what happened in the Holocaust, the writings and records of those who died are, in way forms of art. Here we have the visual and historic recordings of events which although happened a long time ago, are still important for us to understand today’s society.
Art exhibitions are also important ways to understand the medium as a whole and this importance is demonstrated in the large attendances and patronages of such events. Art can also be a way to record lost civilisations; typical examples would be the Mayan civilisation in the Central American jungle as well as the forgotten Khmers in the Cambodian land. Here the vast designs and architectural buildings convey a sense of advanced technological art and everything comes together in a huge variety of colour and beauty.
The arts are important ways of expression and can be termed as the culture and identity of the nation in question. Since time immemorial, art has been the primary manner of expression to convey a political or nationalistic message. Art keeps people alive and governments have consistently used the arts to express all manners of projects and initiatives which culminate in a policy which brings everyone together.
The attachment of artists and photographs to wars and other historic events is also an important message for the power of the arts. In his excellent book, Sayre explains the crucial power of the arts in the chapter on Renaissance art where the Church consistently used its power and influence to get to the hearts and minds of others.
Sayre H; The World of Art, Longman 2006, Print