Art in Societal Identity

Art in Societal Identity
by Brianka Morgan

People will often associate terms like “loner” or “hippy” to artists. Even the media often portrays artists in such a detached and laid back manner. The character Jane from the MTV cartoon show “Daria” is portrayed as a socially awkward outcast dedicated to her art. Similarly, innumerable artists in real life will shun their environment and community for jaded belief that somehow they are disconnected from society. The problem with this attitude is that regardless of what the artist believes and thinks, he or she is deeply rooted into society and his or her art reflects the current spirit of society. Art is essential to the establishment of a generational identity, and unfortunately society today risks losing touch with its individuality because of a lack of sincere and meaningful artistic subject matter.

There are many reasons for the steady deterioration of societal and cultural identity. One primary reason is because of the introduction and advancements of technology and science. Because of the presence of networking devices and programs such as the internet, the world which used to be so large and mysterious has become smaller. Furthermore, technology has changed the way art is created. No longer does one have to be able to draw directly from life. One can used gridded pictures in order to create work, and thus an emphasis on more realistic styled art has become prevalent as the “accepted style” of this generation. Because of mass production and the commercialization of art today, the artistic language of content has lost its meaning and instead become noise. Art is now created digitally for promotions and advertisement and later printed and disposed of. The “here today, gone tomorrow” attitude in the demand for applied art has assisted in the steady decline of societal identity, and threatens to cause problems in the future.

The art that the artist creates serves as the basic foundation upon which civilization is built. In many cases, the only way that scientists and historians know about what little they do know of ancient civilizations is through the art and architecture. The fact of the matter is, people paint, draw, sculpt and etch that which is important to them. Statues of Aphrodite in Greece were created because she was an important entity as a goddess. Oxen and cows were painted on walls and stones of Africa because they were, and are, important to survival. The intertwining figures of Dragons and Phoenixes painted on walls and scrolls in China illustrate symbolic spiritual unity and the importance of husband and wife. No matter the subject matter and symbolism, art will remain even when the artist is gone, and from that work of art the society of tomorrow will not only have a pretty picture of sculpture but also a historical document reflecting the development of society’s values. Thus, while the artist is working hard in his or her studio believing to have been cut off from the world, he or she is in reality creating work that will be instrumental to history in the future.

While art is imperative towards the building and establishment of the future, it is also important in propelling values and ideas in conflict forward from the present. Unfortunately, it seems as though the older generation artists are sincerely more involved in politics and movements. Artists like Ai Weiwei are emphasizing the rights and wrongs of government actions upon the citizens, while artists 30 and younger sit idly by without taking a significant stance or statement on important societal issues. While the apathy and complacency in regards to politics and social issues is generally prevalent in those born after 1985, it is even worst that artists within this generation do nothing and avoid making a legitimate statement with their art. Even artists like Kathë Kollowitz emphasized the pain of war in her art after having her life affected by both World War I and World War II. Meanwhile, the United States has participated in war with Iraq and Afghanistan while also having made significant militant initiatives within the past decade and a half. However, very few artistic persons have a personal investment to those serving our country. Are such issues such as gay marriage, war, women’s rights, spirituality and economic equality truly so unimportant that they do not prevalently grace the subject matter of art today?

All artists have a responsibility to the not only portray mundane life in their subject matter, but also to develop and utilize their voice in society. The artist has the inherited power to influence change or reemphasize stability. While self satisfaction is important in the development in creative skill, inevitably artists create art to reemphasize the emotional, mental and spiritual affects of the historical events of their time. They are not hermits and loners, but rather a significant voice and agent of expression of societal identity.