Why does art matter in 2017?

we the people_shepard fairey

Image: ‘We the People’ by artist, Shepard Fairey

In 2016 when I began this blog, I wrote a post titled ‘Why art matters’ because I felt I needed to articulate these ideas, although I’m absolutely not the first to have done so. Even universities, like Standford, have said something on this topic albiet as part of their marketing strategy to recruit more students.

The ideas in my first post still hold now more than ever.

Massive political upheavals are taking place all over the world. Many respond to this through art in some form. Take Shepard Fairey’s Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster created back in the 2008 US election campaign, and his new work, ‘We the people’ a series of three posters in protest of the of Donald Trump’s ideas in the USA. Using its recognisable red, white and blue colour scheme, this work makes a strong statement about equality and American citizenship. And then there’s Illma Gore and her nude painting of Trump during the 2016 election campaign that saw her enmeshed in a law suit. Now she’s moved onto a mural using human blood.

Craftivism is playing a massive role too. Due to the power of the ‘pussyhat project’ thousands and thousands of pink hats appeared in recent women’s marches around the world to protest Trump’s inauguration on 20 January. They created a striking visual response driven by knitters and crafters. Even those who couldn’t participate in the demonstrations knitted hats as ‘a physical manifestation of their anger’.

A lot of this energy has emerged because of the outcome of the recent American election. Of course, art matters for reasons other than political ones. As I said in my first post, ‘It can help us connect with others, and to see the world differently. It can encourage us to be empathetic or to flip our thinking on its head. Art can push us to question everything we take for granted’. All of this is still the case in 2017. Because people probably have a bit more fire in the bellies it’s likely that we’ll see art reflecting the politics of our times more and more over next few years.

Our planet keeps getting hotter, and our natural environment is more fragile due to the pressures of human activity. Janet Lawrence’s exquisite installation, Deep Breathing, at the Australian Museum in Sydney is a response to this predicament. This work pushes the public to consider what’s happening to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef due to the impact of climate change.

Artists play a great role in provoking people to think, connect, and perhaps act. Sometimes this is in the most subtle of ways, through work that initially might appear to be insubstantial. Heather Rose’s book The Museum of Modern Love explores such a phenomenon (book review coming soon!). Through a fictionalised account she highlights the power of deep, sustained looking, as embodied in Marina Abramović’s 2010 performance, The Artist is Present, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Looking. The simple act of two people sitting down and looking at each other. At first glance this work seemed quite lightweight. Yet the impact it had on the public was phenomenal.

So yes, in 2017, art still matters. As does design. We live in difficult times with huge challenges on a global, local and individual level. Art and design can assist us in finding a way through.

This year on Art Matters Now you’ll be reading more posts about art, design, craft and making, more artist and designer profiles, as well as guest posts from individuals who I’ve invited to share their thoughts on why art matters. And in a few weeks I’ll be launching a new segment called Studio Talk, where creatives discuss what happens in their studio practice. Stay tuned.

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