The importance of art–

October 2, 2008 at 5:24 am (Discoveries, Journaling, Poltical-ish)

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The importance of art— Yes, yes, art is very, very, super important. So many people will just give a blanket nod to this statement, move on, and forget the words ever came out of their mouths. And yet, art is important. It’s an incredibly effective tool to reaching people. Especially public, urban art. Graffiti art, street art, poster art, all of these mediums are so much more effective in reaching the common person than newspapers these days. And I extend those terms of artwork to include the online world. With the efficiency of showing all your friends, either through Facebook, MySpace, or even just your blog what you find interesting, and let’s face it, people find art interesting, online art is just as effective a medium to spreading a message as graffiti art. The potential for these mediums is just fascinating, and I love seeing it used in ways that publicize politician’s activities, or certain political events (anyone reading this just has to know how much I love publicizing politics…). I remember being in Rome a few years ago (oh good Lord does that sound uppity snobbish. Bare with me, please?) right after our dear President Bush had visited. Italians weren’t too fond of the President at the time (were they ever? I’m not sure, but I vote no), and everywhere I went, I found graffiti art of Bush (very naturalistic stencils, actually. Impressive quality) and various, Italian slang defacing him and his arrival (I didn’t understand much, but every now and then they would throw in an English “fuck tu” for my comprehension). I think it goes without saying (at least, it should) that all types of art forms are highly effective modes of political criticism.

Or maybe it shouldn’t go without saying. Maybe it should be said. All types of art forms are highly effective modes of political criticism. (Fair warning, my examples are mostly limited to African artists. It’s just what I know the best. And I know it seems a little off topic from my first few paragraphs, but stick with me. I’m sure it’ll come around full circle. Just have faith.) Wizard Of The Crow, a novel by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (please don’t ever ask me to pronounce that name) is a beautiful book written by a Kenyan author (now exiled) that uses a fictional African country to criticize the politics in his own, as well as others, in Africa. The amount of political criticism is truly impressive for a fictional work, and deserves to be applauded all on its own. Yet all joking aside, the novel is an effective way to reach out to the literate for understanding about what is happening in Thiong’o’s country, as well as a lot of other countries in Africa. And yes, this is the part where I could insert an entire new blog post about the state of African countries post-independence, but there are books written about it that cover the subject far more in-depth and much more interestingly than I can ever hope to manage. If you’re super, super interested (and I’ll be honest—I have my doubts), read Martin Meredith’s The Fate of Africa.

But back to art. As fascinating as I find Thiong’o’s novel, I know that not everyone is like me. Not everyone reads everything they can find, and literature isn’t always the most effective way to reach a large group of people. A lot of people are very visual, though, and absorb pictures much more quickly than they absorb text. Art is a faster, and often times, if less thorough, more effective way of getting a message across. Images like Yinka Shonibare’s Scramble for Africa (2001) convey strong messages about African politics, and the viewer doesn’t even need to be that well versed in the subject. And yet I run into a problem with this promotion of art, similar to that of literature. Scramble for Africa is an elaborate piece, and found in a museum. It won’t be on the streets, for every day viewing to every day people. This is where my fascination with street art comes into play. You could sculpt amazing pieces showing your disgust for President Bush’s visit to Italy and have them seen by the few patrons to the museum, maybe even a bunch of students on a field trip, but by and large, your pieces won’t be noticed by the general public. Not unless there’s a huge controversial stir, and even then, you only reach those who are looking for it. Yet anyone walking the streets of Rome saw the naturalized stencils of Bush, and the captions that went with them. Anyone walking the streets of any major city will undoubtably see a cornucopia (such an ill-fitting word, even if used technically correct, neh?) of rude, frustratingly vulgar graffiti art. And yet there is also a lot of amazing, talented, politically-charged artwork illegally gracing the walls of buildings and the underbellies of tunnels. Graffiti is used in political wars throughout Northern Ireland, using murals to mark territory. Such a straight-forward way to get a message across.

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