At their most simplistic, art and culture are perhaps about our relationship to reality? The way we see things, what we think they mean, how we imagine it fitting together into some sort of coherent or meaningful whole. And, with that, it seems there’s this basic attitude of either hope or despair, belief or doubt – do we see the best or the worst in all this?
Equally, there’s the question of whether culture’s reflecting or somehow distorting realities in how they’re represented to us: adding something that’s not quite there or discounting elements of what is actually present (Notes One). Either way, it seems to be changing things – in our minds, at least.
Art, not then being a faithful mirror, can sometimes seem like a source of subversion as, intentionally or not, it misrepresents our reality. Perhaps pointing toward what “might” happen, one way or another, or hinting at what “might” be emerging or working behind the scenes – this emotive projection of intentions, trends or impending realities that may or may not be there.
For some reason, society’s seemingly tending toward despair. Seeing the world around us more clearly and comprehensively than previously, its darkness thrust forward and running awry, while also having that explored so (un)realistically within modern culture can perhaps only lead to a sense of resignation or a deepened sense of engagement with the process of what we’re creating through our lives (Notes Two).
After all, are we actually powerless to influence such trends, patterns and outcomes? Is there any sense in us responding on anything other than an emotional or intellectual level to what we’re observing around us? Is it even a waste of energy to react, to travel those paths if only with our hearts or minds? Are we wasting time caring about collective realities when we could just look to our own interests? Surely not (Notes Three).
I’m tending more toward thinking these things might be encouraging us to find our feet, hold our ground, understand our power. Rather than getting swept one way or another by voices or imagery from the potential extremes, to see how we stand between those two basic alternatives of optimism or pessimism in life. To understand the nature of our systems and the choices we have in responding to all that lands on our doorstep.
Perhaps art is there to draw things more sharply to our attention? To depict our realities, the risks and opportunities contained within them, so we might, somehow, be drawn out of any complacency to engage more purposefully in both our thinking and action with the world we’re seeking to grasp our role within (Note Four).
Might the function or value of art be in creating awareness so that we, in turn, can choose what we hope to create? Its visceral representations of life serving as opportunities – doorways – for focussing in on our challenges then, hopefully, accepting where we stand and actively deciding the role we want to be playing in things moving forward.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Culture as reflection
Note 1: Truth, illusion & cultural life
Note 1: It resonates, but should it be amplified
Note 1: What does art have to say about life?
Note 2: Living your life through a song
Note 2: Matt Haig’s “Notes on a Nervous Planet”
Note 2: Dystopia as a powerful ideal
Note 3: Right to look out for ourselves?
Note 3: And, how much can we care?
Note 4: Do we know what we’re doing?