What Important Role does Art have in Society?

Photo by Ruben Ramirez on Unsplash

Before we begin looking at the role of art in society, we must first decide what we mean by art. Art comes 3 main forms: visual art (e.g. paintings, drawings, photography, and sculptures), applied art (e.g. buildings, clothing, furniture design, and interiors), and performing arts (e.g. dance, music, theatre, and cinema). Whenever someone (an artist) has thought imaginatively about their creation, we can call it ‘art’. What we, as humans, know of art is that it exists in every corner and every culture of the globe.

→ What is the purpose of art?

Art is so diverse and so are opinions about it. We could consider art’s primary role as that of seeking to please with beauty but is this really the case? If we consider Picasso’s Guernica¸ would we use the word ‘beautiful’? It’s doubtful. We can say, thus, that art doesn’t solely seek to please but it seeks to affect, challenge or inspire its audience.

→ Art for oneself or others?

We said above that art seeks things in its audience and, whilst that may well be the case, it might not be its main or only purpose. We need to consider why artists do their work. Many artists see their work as a journey of discovery. It’s about processing thoughts and putting them onto paper (or clay etc.). There are many elements to human life that are very difficult, impossible even, to express orally or in prose. Sometimes words are just not enough to express a powerful feeling or emotion like love.

→ Art as language

Many artists use their work to express their emotions and their struggles. We just have to look at the evolution of artists’ work over time to see this. Picasso, for example, had a blue period in which all of his paintings were in blue monochrome tones. This period occurred after his friend’s suicide and we see Picasso’s turmoil reflected in his work. We could say, therefore, that artists use their work as a way of communicating. This could be communicating their feelings to others or simply communicating to themselves and processing their thoughts. Essentially, we can see art as a language. It’s quite possible that art existed before humans could use verbal language. Cave paintings exist all over the world and are many think they a way of communicating.

→ A record of society

Through time, we see changes in the style of artists’ work. From cave paintings, hieroglyphics and medieval art right through to expressionism, cubism and pop art, we see a big shift in the subjects and styles. Through these, we can say that art is simply a record of our society, a kind of photo album of the world in different media.

→ Do we need art in society?

Whilst there is art, there will always be a debate about what art is and its purpose. So long as artists are making work and people are appreciating their work, there will be art. Interestingly, there is a link between art and a higher level of wellbeing and taking part in art can improve cognitive development. Above all, we are reminded that art is not just about pretty pictures on a page, it goes much deeper than that and runs through every creative decision we make.


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