top of page

The Importance of Art in Challenging Times

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Importance of Art in Challenging Times

Hello everyone, As my first blog I am presenting an essay responding to Linda Durham Gallery's recent call on "the importance of ART in our Challenging Political, Social and Econimic World. dominique “What the warming world needs now is art...” --Bill McKibben, author of “The End of Nature” “The artist as painter, sculptor, yes, but also healer and lover. The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see.” --James Baldwin “The rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as the society's image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive.” --Fred Polak, “The Image of the Future” “I am sure that only art will bring together all the peoples of the world.” --Ousmane Dia, artist When both earth and humanity are suffering so greatly, when our very future is in question, not only is art important, but art is at the center. As humanity lets us face our own suffering and that of our planet, when our hearts break open, there is nothing left to do than let our hearts speak. ART is the voice of the heart. Conceptual theories about art are no longer sufficient. What has been missing from contemporary discourse is that art is the expression of spirit. Spirit, the gift that speaks through us, makes us reach beyond ourselves toward something greater. In a fragmented world wrecked by war and hatred, spirit implies oneness, non-separation, interconnectedness. It resides in the heart. As our world falls apart and our hearts break open, spirit guides us to make art that relates deeply to a world in hurt. In a recent blog, the art critic Suzi Gablik writes, “In our catastrophic times, there is a remarkable dichotomy between artists who believe unfailingly in the autonomy and self-sufficiency of art, and those who maintain that art should have some socially redeeming purpose.” She captures it by quoting from her book, “The Reenchantment of Art”: “We need an art that transcends the distanced formality of aesthetics and dares to respond to the cries of the world.” The Chinese word for crisis is made up of two characters, “danger” and “opportunity.” It is is time and opportunity for new beginnings. Standing still and feeling the entrapment of despair or denial, we recognize our longing for a different world, a better world. We are forced to take a deep look at everything, outside of us, but also inside of us. Along with our personal longing, we will recognize with author Marilyn Ferguson that “there's a paradigm shift in art from a deeply suffering approach to one that values healing... the role of art and the role of healing are the same: make whole. The artists' task is to discover that wholeness in themselves and to communicate their discovery.” Art and life will no longer be separated. “Art transcends our ordinary lives and lets us imagine what is possible.” The crisis of humanity is multi-level, economic, social political... There's plenty of prejudice between members of kin, community, nation alike. With all the wars raging, the hate between tribes and nations have increased. Again if one looks at art through the lense of spirit, one sees great possiblity for “healing, comforting, inspiring or improving.” In the past, we have identified culture and art within the boundaries of race, nationality or religion. But we can no longer afford this narrow focus. Today we must look for a deep continuity that grows our humanity. In the early 80's, I was on the board of the Center for Peace Through Culture (CPC). CPC recognizes that “peace will come about when enough people realize that life on earth is one indivisable whole, and when they use their inherent creativity to serve the whole by restoring harmony and balance.” The CPC brochure expresses well what I firmly believe in: “Culture is the produce of the creative spirit in humanity. Because the source of this spirit is universal, culture is a universal language. It is a medium of communication that transcends boundaries of nationality, race and religion and creates unity. Inherently, it is a bridge to global peace. Through beauty, harmony and truth we understand one another simply because we are human.” As ominous clouds darken our outer and inner landscapes, it will be important for art to be the celebrant that it is. We can't forget the beauty of our planet and all her beings, we must honor what we have been gifted with. At a time when we risk of being frozen by fear, our hearts need to be stirred and open nakedly bearing our awe and love. Now is a time of crisis, war and catastrophes, but it is a time of possible transformation into a whole new direction. As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, evolution is much in the news. I believe humanity is continuing on its evolutionary course... so is art. The speed at which we are realizing what's happening to the world is gaining momentum. In this time of upheaval, we, artists, the-perceivers-of-WHAT-IS that we are, are naturally going to respond to the situation. There will be a reuniting of what we have separated, art and life, but also art and spirit, art and science. New forms will result not only through the interfacing of different disciplines but also collaborations between the practitioners within these different fields, artists, scientists and other specialists (like city officials.) Seeds have been planted since the 60's with movements like political art and environmental art, but now there's going to be an explosion of forms of 'art for life's sake' and 'art for earth's sake.' Bertold Brecht said that “art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” We will have, and still need mirrors held up to reality, but with pressing times upon us, art will become “the hammer” forming deep change. As art is swinging between mirror and hammer, we will also experience an increase in the genres and forms that art offers. The oneness is the infinity, that is a mark of spirit, the commonality in the diversity. The new times may actually produce more art than we have ever seen before because there will be growing numbers realizing that the old forms of communication have not been working and that the universe is calling us to reach for each other and for the skies.

29 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page