“Who Has Time for Art and Culture?”

June 8, 2016

Faculty-GArnold-e1443018821467“Our students tend to have open minds, as well as open eyes. They are curious people who ask important questions about themselves and about the society in which they live. They have a healthy skepticism about the status quo.”

By Professor Gordon Arnold

We live in a world of crises. With economic meltdowns, wars, uprisings, natural disasters and a major nuclear accident, the list of problems seems to grow longer every week. With so many calamities surrounding us, who has time for the arts?

But it is exactly in such times that the arts are most important. When the world is confusing and chaotic, the arts have much to offer us. That’s partially because the arts do something that no other human endeavor can do. They shake us out of the commonplace, make us see and hear things in new ways and help us envision new possibilities. Whether employing imagery, words or sounds, the arts can open our eyes and our minds.

Art can be a powerful cultural barometer that illuminates the hopes, dreams, fears and anxieties of an era. During the Great Depression, for example, two young men created a powerful new myth. They told their story in words and pictures in the almost throwaway form of a comic book. Few people took it seriously or regarded it as art. Over time, however, the Superman story became an enduring American narrative that revealed much about America’s ever-changing moral climate.

In other instances, art draws attention to overlooked aspects of our world. The monumental photographs of Edward Burtynsky, for example, portray acres of cargo containers, recycling yards, refineries and quarries. These vast and often forgotten wastelands are the byproducts of modern life. Burtynsky regards these images  “as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence.” His photographs prompt us to think about humankind’s dependence on nature, even as we are immersed in a lifestyle that tirelessly consumes nature’s resources.

In another realm, an upcoming exhibition at Montserrat College of Art will explore what contemporary art can tell us about global conflict. Entitled “For the Record,” the exhibit, which will be on display this fall, aims to discover what’s missing from the heated debates we usually see in the media. Including work from artists across the United States and elsewhere, it will be an opportunity to reconsider assumptions about war in the contemporary world.

So, who has time for the arts? Maybe that’s the wrong question. Far from being a luxury, the arts are essential. They’re for everyone. By helping us make sense of the world, they can be a powerful source of inspiration for the future.

Don’t have time for the arts? Make time.