Art and Society

I read a question in a list of art Blog topics. What role does art have in society?

My immediate answer is ‘none’. However I don’t think it’s quite that simple. When I paint I have no great social questions that inspire me or that I am thinking about. When I named ‘Sea Stars’ I was thinking about the recent sea star die-off on the pacific coast. But I started painting Siwash Rock because I liked the image. I started thinking about sea stars because several years ago my wife and I saw large numbers of them covering the rocks around Siwash Rock; hence ‘Sea Stars’. There is a social issue here but I wasn’t thinking about it when I was painting.

Some artists are clearly thinking of a social issue when they work or are deciding on their next project. Not me. I don’t have a problem with using art to bring attention to an issue. It doesn’t diminish the art. I just don’t think about it when I paint. In the past the social power of art was greater because there were no commercials, billboards, TV, magazines or newspapers. Some of the cave paintings are fantastic. Hunters painting animals on cave walls were doing something very different than I am when I paint a picture. The animals have great life and likely appeared to jump right off the walls. I can understand how the artists and paintings seemed magical.

Recently my daughter did a series on phytoplankton. Some of it is microscopic others just small. The images are beautiful and I liked them. Some may be endangered and others are just very interesting. If the art heightens awareness of a social issue then it’s a bonus. If I were painting with a message I would always be concerned that the message would take over the art. I have no expectations of social comment or change when I paint. I like to paint.

The attached image has nothing to do with this blog entry. It’s just what I’m presently working on. The blog entry is just what I’m presently thinking about. I’m sometimes asked what inspired me to paint a picture. When I tell them I liked the image they are clearly a little disappointed with the shallowness of my response. I appreciate the interest but sorry that’s all you get.

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