The exploration of the topic of the Arts as a force in social change virtually make one is immediately facing to a long history, from ancient Eastern to neo-Western culture.
Is it often questioned whether art is still an essential part of social content or not. Some believe that in this millennial era, humans need more political events, not art exhibitions; that nations need another Winston Churchill not Shakespeare. However, some of these facts might give some pivotal views of the existence of arts in humanity and social aspects. Low (2012) asserts that in this modern days, the Arts indeed has an absolute role in causing social change, especially in social-political issues.
This essay will address three reasons why humans have to believe that the Arts have influential abilities for fostering a dramatic social change in many facets. The Arts, in this essay, referring to any form of art masterpiece, viz. paintings, music, movie, poetry, etc.
To begin with, the refined potential of the Arts in influencing social change, especially in the fields of laws and politics are undoubtedly acclaimed by many scholars. Firstly, the arts may raise awareness toward particular politic issues, Halmos (1970) observes that only after George Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier” had published did people protest about housing problems to the government. He suggests that this behaviour is conveyed by Orwell’s strong and alluring style of writing. This is one of many proofs that the art of writing can provoke individuals for certain behaviour.
From the Renaissance era to the millennial era, history cited that myriads of paintings not only provide a space for aesthetic depiction but also act as a vehicle for many political changes. For instance, in 1960, Nancy Spero, an American visual artist could lead to a formation of a feminist activist group, called The Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous, mask-wearing protesters who were famous for their overtly political posters and billboards (Sudhakar 2017).
More to the point, the Arts might be an effective tool for imposing or amending a law. After watching a documentary movie about a girl who was shot by her uncle and father for having eloped with her lover, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had promised to reconsider on honour killings. In a few years, he fulfilled his promise, a new law was imposed regarding this issue, hindering the law-breakers to walk free. As Chinoy (2017) quoted in his text, “Good art can educate and create empathy, and empathy leads to change.” Thus, this is an ample example of the influence of the Arts in creating such dramatic social change since most of the Pakistani lawmakers never been encountered for honour killing survivors.
One of the most prominent instances, in this case, is also the role of the renowned author of Dorian Gray: Oscar Wilde. Not until 1967 was homosexuality made legal in Britain, his writings provide both comfort and hope in the face of injustice, ignorance, and hatred among the homosexual community to fight for its establishment at that time frame (Gosling 2016).
The strongest effect of the Arts may be its destructive implications towards laws and politics. Government and politicians are aware of this detrimental effect; many monarchs or government have been abolished by the Arts. The hatred of Marie Antoinette had started from a provocative cartoon about her infamous saying of “ Let Them Eat Cake”. History also noted that many actions of political censorship were done in many nations in order to prevent such things. Goldstein (1989), cited in Levefre (1991, pp. 269-270), implied that in the nineteenth century in Europe, political censorship to the Arts reached its zenith. Especially in Russia, where many visual arts were banned and labelled as indecent and illicit materials. In other words, if the Arts do not have the potential to affect society by no means should the government act in such serious ways for its prevention.
Secondly, the Arts has such abilities to influence religious events. For instance, Islam and Hinduism very often use art in describing many religious events and prophecies. By using ornaments or pictures people can be more influenced or interested in certain beliefs. Therefore, after the fall of the Sasanian Empire, many pilgrims use religious tapestries or scrolls as one of many feasible means to introduce and spread the faith of Islam. (Ekhtiar and Moore 2012).
Additionally, it is also suggested that the Arts can promote to maintain one’s religiousness. For example, many art contributions were found in the liturgies of Eastern Orthodox and Catholic. It is common to note an immense number of liturgical writing, music, or statue in their practices. Bychkov (2010) also cited in his lecture that precisely both natural and artistic beauty are able to provoke “the sense of transcendence, or figure of some deeper or divine principles in the world.”
Nevertheless, the Arts also has the ability to threat religious view. Paglia (2003) stated that some conservative Christians condemn the modern popular culture which is suspected to be the seeds of immorality and insolent behaviour in younger generations. Thus, some of the specific strategies such as private faith-based academic institution are employed in order to protect children from secular influence or moral anomaly.
On top of that, the Beatles’ songs had risen some conflicts among priests and other religious leaders in the USA in the 60s. Their new album was assumed to be satanic and offense Christianity (Sullivan 1987).
In other words, this array of evidence suggests that the Arts can be deemed as a versatile means to influence any amendments in society.
The last reason whether the Arts have great potential in influencing social change concerns both personal and communal life.
According to Lindström (2014), contemporary art has an essential role in enhancing a social community. She describes that art, especially African mural art, in this case, act as a catalyst for positive social changes in Nima community in Ghana, Africa. A study was conducted by introducing and teaching mural art paintings to the younger generation in Nima community. The result, however, was satiable; by delving into their passion, many youths were encouraged to develop their talent, and this, by all means, keep them from rooming around the streets (ibid).
Even though the abovementioned research was done in a small group of community, it can be deemed as a clear representation of a broader level of community of the World.
As a matter of fact, the Arts also benefits from providing positive social behaviour. Statistics suggest that students who study art are more likely to actively volunteer or participate in social events. (Art Council of England 2014). In addition, cultural sustainability might be obtained through the Arts. A range of diverse style of art seems to be able to empower a social tension. In which case, tension is needed to keep a rich cultural society. (Read 1952, pp.114-121). It is cited in (ibid) that too much stability will lead to an apathetic and declining society.
Thus, the previous instances emphasise the potential of the Arts in manipulating society.
In conclusion, it is a fact that society cannot be detached from politics, religion, and community. The aforementioned arguments and examples indicate the absolute potential of the Arts in driving social change both in the past and in the future. In a broader view, it shows its ability to convey both benefits and drawbacks in those three aspects. In the small scope, it is highlighted all the valuable implications toward personal life in endeavouring the Arts. Thus, it is highly advisable for all citizens of the world to conserve and maintain the Arts and it is recommended that the government bestow both financial and non-financial support to the Arts.
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