How Art Will Save the World

Visual art has inspired incredible cultural transformations in the world.

Many things about the world are all too often taken for granted, particularly in terms of human capabilities. Walking, for instance, is a basic function that usually doesn’t cross one’s mind until someone else’s misfortune becomes painfully obvious. Many important capabilities of a psychological nature are often taken for granted as well, particularly in terms of images. The ability to perceive, process, and analyze images is a crucial right-brain function which defines the most basic aspects of life, and perhaps more than anyone realizes possesses the single greatest potential for harmony in the world.

A Visual Basis for Learning

In the past hundred years, unbelievable strides in art, literature, science, and human rights have taken place, and such progress has coincided with the availability of images of the outside world. Before the advent of photography, television, and most recently, the internet, a person was not able to conceive of a world outside their immediate surroundings; therefore, exploration of foreign lands and especially other planets was never a priority because, even if it were possible to read about such places, the lack of visual evidence created widespread apathy in terms of the rest of the planet.

Consider, for example, what kind of relief efforts would have been made for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti this winter if no one had seen photographs of the damage and destruction; or what sort of movement would have erupted in the absence of photos coming back from Vietnam; or what the state of space exploration would be now without the iconic image of Neil Armstrong on the moon.

The increasing awareness of the world (and beyond) has had another significant impact on cultures all over the world: the emergence of visual art. Prior to these relatively modern technologies, painters and sculptors were typically expected to create portraits, or at the very least stay strictly faithful to the human form. There have obviously been artistic movements in the past, the Renaissance is the most important example, but even in such masterpieces as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, humans resemble humans and nature resembles nature.

Artistic Freedom Leads to Creating the Future

It was not until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that artists were truly free to explore the possibilities of their respective media. Artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dahli, M.C. Escher, and Georgia O’Keefe continuously redefined the possibilities of visual art, and have since inspired hundreds of thousands of ethereal works of art.

The landscape of visual art is, of course, much greater than the works of painters. More artistic uses of photography, sculpture, architecture, and the newest addition to visual media, the cinema, have been redefined post-industrial revolution and have infused incredible beauty into the world, and thus into the scope of human consciousness. The power of past artistic movements such as cubism and surrealism is simpler yet more important than any artist could have realized at the time: the act of simply looking at a work of art inspires the viewer to think abstractly, to potentially look at the sky and think not of the basic star-studded landscape the eyes first perceive, but of Van Gogh’s swirling colors in his masterpiece, “Starry Night.” One might also look at Picasso’s “Crying Woman” and, perhaps subconsciously, consider the sadness of women all over the world. Such abstract thought is the basis for action.

Naturally, art has not single-handedly transformed the world into a magical, peaceful place, but the boundary-defiance and emotion it encourages in its viewers have aided political movements all over the world: Civil Rights, the Women’s Movement, and gay activism just to name a few. Given the changes that have happened in the past hundred years or so, one must wonder what the world will be like in another hundred years, and what role art will play in creating the future.