Amending Art to Mend Society

Asking Questions to Inspire

Art is, and always has been, both a literal and figurative illustration of the time in which is was produced, somehow reflecting a narrative that was created by an artist or a patron… sometimes times both. It’s hardly challenging to look at a painting and immediately decide if it’s “good,” but it is much harder to figure out why it’s good. The same goes for the stories art can tell us as a unique language in itself… but let’s take it a step further. In addition to asking why a piece of art is considered “good” so to speak, it is equally as important to ask why it exists in the first place and why we’ve arrived at narrative that a piece of art exhibits. Take this piece by Eastman Johnson for example.

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Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty, 1862

Here we see a family of enslaved people, fleeing the Confederate South to the Union North. Sure, we could use this blog post as a space to critically decipher the compositional validity of the piece, but now more than ever, it is important to ask questions about why they are running, where that oppression came from, and how it is still pervasive in our daily lives. It’s time to ask the radical questions, that many of us are too afraid, or too removed-from to confront.

Why do we have such strict border laws? Why have the ICE camps expanded since 2008?

Why has the private-prison sector and incarceration levels soared dramatically since the 1960’s?

Why isn’t Native American history considered when teaching U.S. History?

Why were enslaved people forbidden to read?  

Why did women win the right to vote a mere 100 years ago?

Why would anyone “choose to be poor?”

These are only a few examples. It doesn’t take long to feel overwhelmed by how egregiously dark and complex the spiderweb of human history truly is. I’m not here to inform the beliefs of anyone, or answer these questions for anyone, I simply believe they deserve to be asked by everyone. The context of a piece of art often informs me more than the piece itself, which compounds the feeling of awe and inspiration that exists in brushstrokes, spray paint, sculpted material, etc.

Education is not limited to taking a class. It stems from asking why – the more knowledge you have the more power you have. The more knowledge you share, the more power others have. If you think critically, you can act critically, and now is the time for a critique of society. If you’re lucky enough to have taken an art class, you already have these skills, and the time to apply them is now.

I can’t take credit for the title of this post. It was inspired by this video, which I suggest watching for anyone who is interested in art, history, or both.

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