I must admit, growing up in a migrant, working class family, art played no part in my life. I remember the first time I visited a gallery in school and running around with my class mates making fun of all the stupid paintings that I did not understand.
As my first degree was economics, I came to appreciate art simply as a financial asset: one, that I never really understood. In fact, I always felt art in all its forms, be it paintings, performance and even music, was simply aesthetic having no value beyond the economic or as a distraction.
Since then, I have come to understand the importance of artistic expression: in fact, my position is that art now forms the basis of a community. Answering the question, ‘what is the role of art is society?’ I argue that art in all its forms can create that sense of desire fundamental to an authentic community.
Drawing on the work of theorists such as Jeremy Brent and Rosalyn Diprose, I my argument is that the basis of an ‘authentic community’ is a sense of ‘reciprocated desire’ to live with the stranger (you can find the academic piece published by Community Development Journal here or an earlier draft on the Institute for Culture and Society website here). That is, communities do not form ‘naturally’, but develop through the hard work of individuals who desire to live with others: and this is what art gives us!
More so, art is key during a time of crisis as it acts as a witness to what we are experiencing.
… it is during times of conflict and war that art is most valuable. In the midst of destructive forces and turmoil, beauty is most appreciated, the stories of ordinary lives that art documents never more vital, and the mirror artists place in front of us essential.
This we learnt from Pablo Picasso. After the mass bombing of Barcelona by the Nazis, Picasso painted arguably his most beautiful and memorable piece. Guernica stands in the foyer of the United Nations building, acting as a reminder to the many diplomats who walk past it of what happens when politics fails.
Picasso stated that a ‘Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war’
Luke’s work is amazing and reminds us of the role of the artist in our society. Luke forces us to consider those sent to combat zones: anonymous soldiers sent to far parts of the world in our name. The works neither judge nor celebrate these combatants.
Like all great works, what the art does, however, is act as a mirror to our society and make us wonder: is this the society we want?