A wise person once described the difference between art and propaganda as a rainbow of grey. Where propaganda has one intended response, art invites many, flirting with ideas, boundaries, contradiction and heresy. This difference is everything. If propaganda exists to narrow perspectives, then art does the inverse; it helps us think bigger, beyond our social, intellectual and internal horizons.
Art and Society
Art has and continues to be at the forefront of social reform. From issues of freedom, gender parity, the environment and diversity, artists have forged new ground by inviting previously unheard voices into public discourse.
Not only does art express new perspectives, but it does so artfully. Australian Indigenous playwright Wesley Enoch puts it best:
“Where we see mass media and the political debates often avoid issues or set out the news as drama, it’s refreshing to see the arts act as a balanced space for debate and disagreement.”
Rather than strong-arm the viewer, art work with play, humour, empathy, suggestion and story-telling. Because of this, it is sometimes more effective than politics, shifting perspectives with poetry, not punishment.
Art and Identity
Art’s function is not only catalytic, it’s reflective. Public galleries are often the first point of call for tourists because they tell – with beauty, wit and wonder – a place’s story.
This is reiterated by how we remember past eras. When we think back to Sydney in the heady 80s, Brett Whiteley’s azure harbour visions swim to mind. Or else, we see Australian history through Sidney Nolan’s isolated Ned Kelly.
In this way, art can be an entry point into otherwise hard to reach spaces, both temporal and geographic. It pricks a zeitgeist, while remaining critical and caring.
Art and You
Thinking bigger can apply to the self. From birth to death, we embark on a journey of self-discovery that never pauses. Great art, which can call on grand and intimate ideas in one swoop, represents a vital avenue for such reflection.
Highly personal itself, Charles Blackman’s work is renowned for sparking self-reflection. Sometimes nostalgic, sometimes melancholic, he invites viewers into his inner-world, in turn prompting them to open their own.
Whatever your position, we are living in interesting times. Faced with changing ecological, political and digital tides, the need for art to give perspective, nuance and wonder is germane. Whether you wear it on your walls or weekends, resist the accusation that art is irrelevant by embracing its ability to make us think big.