The Importance of Art

Now, more than ever – whilst cooped up and confined by the rampage of a wild bat virus –

[Drawing of a bat, laughing]
(Pictured above: Derek, the bat. As interviewed by Waterford Whispers)

– We detainees are beginning to recognise the true value of arts and of entertainment – to the individual, as well as societally.

It is sad, then, that the creative industries should now be facing such crises. As gig-workers watch their incomes vanish before their eyes, and as entertainers are shooed hurriedly off-stage and into their bedrooms, we are given a soft reminder of how it is precisely these industries that are always first to step up and raise money and awareness in usual times of crisis. (Like when all of the trees are on fire, or when thousands of people are homeless come mid-December: you know, normal things.)

Art cares for the world, and right now, the world needs to care for its art. This blog is therefore dedicated to some of the times that art has been ever-so-generous to our societies, and to our souls. How we’ve used art to get by in the past, and why it’s necessary for us, moving forward.

But first:

What IS art? 

And IS that the most cliche question I could have possibly posed?

Probably.

Art Throughout the Ages:

We’ve all seen the cave paintings. We’ve all had our jaws drop at the hieroglyphs.

[Art critic appraising cave paintings, whilst smoking a pipe]

Art has been around for as long as we have, and for even longer than our more modern methods of communication. Art was our language before we had language. Our records before we had files. Our graffiti before we had trains.

We’ve been drawing, painting, sculpting and inventing for at least a couple of tens of thousands of years now. We’ve also been singing and making music, building, and – I imagine – dancing, storytelling, and acting, despite the (understandable) lack of archaeological evidence on those fronts.

[Cave man DJ'ing atop a mound. Cave people dancing]
Berghain. 23,500 BC.

More art-forms evolved as there were inventions. (Writing, being a somewhat significant one)

Skipping much later down the line, we got: photography, videography, graphic design, and even more recently: gifs, memes and TikToks.

Now, I didn’t pose the question ‘what is art?’ just to point to TikTok as being our most recent development. So allow me to try to regain some integrity on that front. 

What I believe all of these ever-evolving media have in common, is their underlying purpose as methods of communication and expression; it is their roles as languages.

You can define language in two ways (or, probably, a thousand; but I’ll stick to two). One is to – objectively – communicate information/data. Another is to – subjectively – express emotion.

Our normal, spoken (and signed) languages manage to accomplish both of these things. Other languages, such as code, mathematics and music theory, focus solely on the information and data communication aspect. All of the art-forms we’ve mentioned above, are particularly useful in the emotional expression aspect.

As our friendly, neighbourhood 19th century Russian author puts it:

“Art is the activity by which a person, having experienced an emotion, intentionally transmits it to others”


Leo Tolstoy

So I like to think of art as language, and language as art (at least, most of the time: such as when we’re talking about our opinions as opposed to, telling someone the time, for example).

[Image of two people having a difference of opinions on the what time it is]

And just as you could argue French and Italian to be better at conveying love than, say, German or Russian (sorry, Tolstoy); some artforms can be better at expressing different ideas than other ones. Sometimes you need a painting, instead of words, to start a revolution.

(Or a meme..)

(TikTok revolution, anyone?)

The Renaissance:

It’s a sunny day in May. You’re gazing out the window, longingly, trying to squeeze some of the sun’s sweet radiance onto your face, before yer ma’ inevitably comes in and makes you go back to learning that goddamn history essay off-by-heart for the tenth time. You’re 15 years old. Life is hard.

The Renaissance (14th-17th century, AD)

Described as:

“A fervent period of European cultural, artistic, political and economic “rebirth” following the Middle Ages.”

And

“The most profoundly important period in human development since the fall of Ancient Rome.”

And

 “A new, [enlightened] era of secularism, rationality and individualism.”

Well, I’ll be damned!

If there’s any better example of art-driven revolution and societal reform, pray tell.

And it all started with a plague…

[drawing of rat with a paintbrush and a beret]
Michelangelo – the artistic plague-rat.

I’ve seen many articles suggesting, debating, debunking and re-bunking, whether or not we’re in or are currently heading into ‘the next Renaissance’. Many of the signs are there. We’re pandemic-ridden. Innovations in technology have expanded the availability of information, as well as improving communication and the spread of ideas. Instead of rebelling against the church, we have our governments and oil companies to heed our strikes. Our art has changed dramatically and digitally, and that has had real-world consequences. Remember that time memes were responsible for the election of thE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES?

…ahem.

The question isn’t whether we are or aren’t in a renaissance, it’s: do we want to be?

Because if we do, we can.

We still have the power to turn this age around. To push, with our art, against the tides threatening to crash against us (literally). We’ve already seen the power of memes in politics (“meme warfare”), and if we consider the power of art to have fuelled a two-century long era of enlightenment, well.

I do find it amusing to think of all the scholars years from now, writing about the cause and effects of whatever-they-decide-to-name our time, perhaps listing coronavirus as the cause for a new age of artistic drive, and of human awareness and responsibility. That’s a nice thought.

It’s interesting to consider what will make it into their history books, and what will fall into the cracks.

Let’s give them something to write about!

Memes:

Even funnier than imagining scholars 100 years from now writing about coronavirus, is imagining scholars 100 years from now writing about memes. History and art history students alike.

[a stack of history books on memes]

Memes are already considered art. I don’t even have to make a case for that. They’ve made it to galleries. They’ve made it as professions. They’ve made it to university courses and studies.

Memes have been described as a form of pop-art. And who are we to say otherwise? They’re no different from any of the other controversial movements that have evolved over time: impressionism, cubism, modern: including pop. Etc. 

Like any important art-form, they bring an entire cultural movement with them.

What did we say earlier about art? It’s a language. Do memes fall into this? Of course they do. Their innate ability to communicate concise packets of information is what makes them so effective.

But memes are nothing new, not really. They’re just one digital/graphic art form that have grown and blossomed from their origins in comic strips and propaganda posters.

– And they are still evolving. First we had memes: images with captions, then, video jumped on board, and we got Vines. Now, we have Tiktoks, which go a step further in adding music to the mix. Our art is becoming more multi-media and immersion based as time goes on. Not unlike a certain blog I know…

More importantly, however, memes are a form of solidarity in these troubling times. Memes can be a powerful tool against depression. Humour (sometimes dark or offensive) is an apt coping mechanism, and laughing, together, is how we get through these serious times.

So keep ‘em coming.

Support the Arts!

That brings us to our point:

From basic communication and documentation on cave walls, to world-altering movements; from self-expression and understanding, to humour that unifies the masses; art is an integral part of our being.

It’s easy to take art for granted, because it’s not exclusive. That would defeat the purpose. Art is there to be spread, and so it has to be free, open source and available to everyone in order to truly give us the renaissance effect.

[Illustration of the Mona Lisa with a price tag of €0 hanging from the frame]

I’m a big believer that art and education should be free for all, but artists do still have to make a living. 

And it’s harder than ever for artists to make a living right now, given the current conditions.

Here’s a fun photo I robbed from Artwork Archive‘s blog, detailing some ways you can help to support artists who may now be struggling:

1. Participate in an online art class.
2. Share resources, art and fundraisers within your own circles.
3. Offer emotional support.
4. Attend online exhibits.
5. Donate, if you are able.
6. Buy artwork directly, online.
7. Commission your favourite artist.
8. Encourage friends and family to get involved.

And here’s a link to another gorgeous article on 8 ways you can support musicians during the lockdown.

So, go forth and support!

And we’ll see you back here next Tuesday!

L & C

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4 comments

  1. Oisin · April 14, 2020

    Nice article Eva. Well written and a good read 🙂 keep it up

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve F · April 14, 2020

    Lads, this is gonna be something special

    Liked by 1 person

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