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Art is important because…

November 30, 2009 Art Thoughts No Comments

In an interview with Chilean-born, New York-based artist Alfred Jaar, Eva Oddo asked Jaar if he thought art had changed the world and if so, how.  This is what Jaar replied:

“Well, can you imagine a world without art? In the answer to this question you will find the answer to your question. What would the world be without art, without culture? As Nietzsche said, “Life without music would be a mistake.” And you could paraphrase him and say: Life without art would be a mistake. Just take a look at around us, look around the city, look around the world – what would it be if there was no art and culture around us? Art and culture are essential elements of contemporary life, of life. Life is unthinkable without it. Art does greatly change the world, and as an artist I have always said, even with the risk of sounding naïve, that I want to change the world. I became an artist because I was unhappy with the state of the world, I am unhappy with the way it is now, and I want to change it. Now, I change it one person at a time – it is a very slow process, it’s a very modest change, but we can touch people, we can inform them, and we can move them to action. In that sense I am Gramscian. Gramsci was an extraordinary intellectual of the 20th century, and an inspiration. He really believed in culture’s capacity to affect change, and it is difficult, sometimes it seems futile, but culture and art have definitely changed the world, and as the world becomes even more complex and difficult, the more art’s potentiality will be realized, culture’s potentiality can be realized. The spaces of art and culture are the last remaining spaces of freedom.”

An example of a photograph that changed American public opinion on the Vietnam war was Eddie Adams’ 1968 photograph entitled Saigon Execution.  Winner of the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for ‘Spot News Photography’, the photography is now commonly referred to as General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon.

A few weeks ago, I asked people to finish the sentence Art is important because…  These are some of the responses I got.

Eddie Adams' Saigon Execution, 1969 (source: frgdr.com/blog)


…it fosters a sense of human connectedness. (Tom Flynn – Art historian, journalist, critic, curator, London, UK)

…it is an expression of our individuality within our commonality. (Sandy Schwartz – Fine Artist and Graphic Arts Instructor at Young Womens Academy, MDCPS, Miami/Fort Lauderdale area)

…it is the cultural soul of civilization. (Carla Santia – Art Consultant for Corporate, Healthcare, Hospitality & Residential, Springfield, Massachusetts area)

…it is the counter to our destructive nature. (Steven Lalioff – Artist & Conservator, Indianopolis, Indiana)

…it can transcend our differences and inspire solutions to conflict and intolerance by reminding us of our universal humanity. (Natasha Bonilla Martinez -Vice-President at Thompson & Martinez Fine Art Appraisals, Inc. – Greater San Diego Area)


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