Throughout different points in our lives, there are certain moments where we feel captivated by a particular work of art. It might be at the very moment when we set foot in a museum, where we saw something that immediately caught our attention. It could also be that moment when we felt magically awed by a beautifully carved statue, or perhaps when we saw the swaying coordinated moves in performing arts. Whatever it is, some forms of art can be so powerful; they leave lingering sensations that spark a flame and create a swirl of enraptured emotions inside our hearts.
In a rapidly evolving world, art can transport our experience beyond space and time. Art has the power to reinterpret the meaning of life through a new lens. It presents the world in a way that changes the perspectives and values of the audiences towards reality. By creating a new understanding of life and existence, art can be a social vehicle that shifts perceptions and changes in society.
Moreover, it can become a catalyst that drives a significant impact on the world.
As one example, in the spring of 1985, seven women formed the Guerrilla Girls in New York with the mission of bringing gender and racial inequality into focus within the greater arts community in response to the Museum of Modern Art’s An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture exhibition and its curator gender bias. The exhibition included only 13 women out of the 165 artists who participated from 17 countries. To make matters worse, the number of all the artists of color was insignificant, and none of the artists of color were women.
But this was a common sight if you live in the era. From the mid-1960s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA) in New York had a predominantly male board of directors. This correlates to the inequality of female artists on display, though a lot of displayed artwork from MoMA represents the female form.
In reaction to the exhibition’s biased judgment, the Guerrilla Girls formed a protest in front of the MoMA.
Though it only yielded little success, not only did this protest bring controversies in the art world, but it also brought awareness of the imbalanced representation of women in the art world. Since then, the group expanded its focus to fighting sexism as well as bringing gender and racial equality within the art communities.
From then on, the Guerrilla Girls began a poster campaign that targeted museums, dealers, curators, critics, and artists who they felt were actively responsible for the exclusion of women and nonwhite artists from mainstream exhibitions and advertisements. The Guerrilla Girls campaign is often displayed in museums around the world for its unique visual language and strategies in women’s rights advocacy.
Other examples include Banksy, an anonymous artist who became a global phenomenon through his aggressive, radical street art and graffiti executed in a distinctive stenciling technique. Driven by his daring risks and experimentation, he projects his craft as a reflection of society and political corruption, from Israel-Palestine conflicts to environmental negligence, with his own way of explanation.
“Napalm” is probably Banksy’s most ruthless work. Created in 2004, the piece shows an image of Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald happily skipping along while holding the hands of a naked, crying young girl. Interestingly, this heartbreaking work uses an original photograph of a girl during the Vietnam War in 1972, reinterpreting this piece as a powerful protest against the war. Banksy also explicitly displayed two symbols of American commercialism and modern capitalism, making this work a provocative social criticism against the system and society. In the end, this work once again reminds us of the power of inequality, violence, the ecstasy of the world of commercialism, and the negative impact they have brought to the global society.
With much impact made by artists, art continues to help the audience address social issues and to rethink what actually matters in life. It encourages people to experience another side of reality they have not yet understood before. It expands our awareness and consciousness to understand more about what’s going on in the world.
Engaging with art not only affects people in many ways but also opens new possibilities for what needs to change in our world and society as a whole. That being said, we might need to start not only looking at art by its aesthetics but also appreciating it as an extensive power that continues to bring a rather massive impact on people’s lives.