The Importance of Art in Difficult Times

Posted by Gregory Johnson on

What role does art play in our society? And when I say "society", I mean the entire world of human experience. As much as we hear of "make America great again", patriotism and nationalism, we must face the fact that the entire world has become a community due to the vast explosion of media. And this community is faced with existential threats from all sides- the rise of neo-fascism, attacks on personal freedoms, a general madness of conspiracy theories from flat earthers to q-anon, not to mention the real crisis of climate change.

So what can we do as artists? Does anything artists produce change anything? Well, my answer is not a resounding yes, but a quiet and confident affirmative. Art, in all its forms, has a way of reaching us at a deeper level, sometimes without us even noticing. If we think about art just a little, we realize how much it touches us on a daily basis, and how amazingly diverse it is. Paintings and drawings, theater, music, sculpture, digital, film, video, poetry, literature, etc. fill our lives every day with information and inspiration. Some we ignore, some we may pause to admire, some may even move us to tears. But how can this change anything?

Robert Fripp, the founder of the band King Crimson, and a virtuoso guitarist, maintains that music can indeed change the world. He is the founder of The Guitar Circle, a now worldwide clinic on not only guitar technique and being present in the moment, but also the technique of active listening, in which the audience plays an equal part in the process, perhaps even a more important part.

Peter Brook, a renowned film and stage director who recently passed away, had this to say on the subject of art in times of crisis: "...swim against the tide,” says Brook, “and achieve whatever we can in our chosen field. Fate dictated that mine was that of theatre and, within that, I have a responsibility to be as positive and creative as I can. To give way to despair is the ultimate cop-out.”

I am currently in the process of creating a series of drawings based on Jung's 12 archetypes, a sort of diagram of the human condition encapsulated in 12 basic human types. The latest one is "The Caregiver" (attached). You may have heard the adage "Art imitates life", but from my point of view, art examines life. This is what artists do. We examine life, in all its manifestations. In so doing, we may move a step closer to not only understanding ourselves as individuals, but also as a collective group of human beings. One person, diversified.

I truly believe that there is an underlying single mind that connects us all, somewhere beyond language, somewhere beyond thought, somewhere beyond and deeply below, in the collective subconscious of a disturbed and confused human race.

This is where art lives. Whether we know it or not, it touches us. It is here that change comes.



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