Muhammad Ali was arguably the greatest fighter of all time. He was brilliant, confident, intelligent, open and incredibly charismatic. He aroused and inspired people, and when he refused to be conscripted into the military to fight in the Vietnam War (and was imprisoned because of it) he demonstrated a will to defend a belief that we are all people from the same planet.
“What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing. You wouldn’t be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought.” — David Hockney
In this day and age of constant busyness, instant gratification, endless accumulation and obsessive self-image, it’s easy to forget about others and the world around us. For artists, this is unacceptable.
Woman with Dead Child. The work of Käthe Kollwitz was overt and openly sympathetic to a cause she believed in. Poverty and inequality were deep concerns of hers. Despite being historically condemned by art critics for exactly that reason, her art lives on because the significance and power of her work is simply undeniable.
The power we possess as artists might not seem obvious to us (especially when we’re alone), but we have to remember that our words, our images and our voice have a profound impact on society — both now and in the future. When used right, it opens up conversation, connects individuals of different backgrounds and inspires action. When carelessly employed and expressed with indifference, it’s at best noise and distraction, and at worst propaganda. Art is THAT influential. It’s no wonder that during every single reign of dictatorial and oppressive regimes, intelligent, free-thinking creatives were often imprisoned or executed. The oppressor fears the free-form, unpredictable power of art that is good — art that connects the best of us.
The Nazis (above) and the Khmer Rouge (below), were evil regimes that used intelligent design and powerful slogans to rule their nations. Art used strictly for political and commercial advantage can often be covertly seductive and horribly destructive.
Artists must remain philosophers — we must think beyond just the quality and effectiveness of the craft. We must remember that by doing art, we’re sharing an idea. And it’s in that sharing, that expression, that we connect to other people. With our art we can demonstrate our empathy, share our loneliness, and help remind each other of the beautiful things of this world. We must be sure and careful of our message.
Charles Schulz’s characters from his comic strip creation, Peanuts, was great not only because of his beautiful art, but because it connected with all of us. Charlie Brown’s struggles were often our own — self doubt, loneliness, and that of being misunderstood.
Understanding is ultimately greater than knowledge or the collection of facts. What we collect, we tend to protect, hide and forget. When we understand, we share because it enhances further our understanding. This goes on and on, from person to person, from one group of people to another, from one generation to the next. In creating art, we find ourselves and help inspire others to do the same. Sometimes the work itself doesn’t even have to be understood, it’s enough to pique interest or curiosity.
“People don’t understand these paintings. They haven’t understood that they’re about love and nothing else.” — David Hockney
David Hockney’s art is simple, beautiful and immediate — they are an expression of the private world that is his own, yet it’s universal enough that they invite us inside, so we can relate even if we don’t necessarily understand right away.
So if you’ve got ideas, or you’ve got something to say, say it. Write that book, paint that painting, animate those feelings that you have. Tell that story you think no one would want to read or listen to. Help one another when given the opportunity. Giving and sharing is the purpose and essence of art. If you’ve acquired knowledge, don’t hoard it. Instead, give because we are all in this together. It’s in this spirit that I spend many hours researching for and writing this blog. I hope you do the same, and share in one way or another.
“Me, we.” — Muhammad Ali