MUSEUM International N°247
What Can Art Still Do? (2)
Imre Toth’s text is a broad fresco of forms of artistic expression in Antiquity. He makes subtle distinctions between the different regions of the world, based on the relationship between art and power. Whereas art has often been used to establish political power, especially in Mesopotamia or Ancient Egypt, Greek democracy favoured self-awareness. It encouraged human liberty, authorised individuals to make choices and enabled the appearance of secular and political art. In Greece, art is an object, Kalos, beauty. Unlike science, art is pure subjectivity, a burning bush of politics. However, science can never be placed above art, even in contemporary societies.
Through his experience of working at the Théâtre de la Fraternité, Jean-Pierre Daogo Guingané (Burkina Faso) writes about the impact that shows and plays can have in African villages. He also points out that, in Africa, the artist does not place himself above the community but at its service. Art is neither above nor outside of our existence: it is life itself. Indeed, drama is an important tool for communication and social intervention. When people get together for a celebration, it opens up opportunities to talk about a variety of topics, including controversial ones such as excision, and therefore leads to an important time of sharing. When asked about the impact of art on society, Jean-Pierre Daogo Guingané suggests that we should build a bridge between art and the issues of economical and social development.
Liubava Moreva stresses the need to maintain the dialogue between art and philosophy in contemporary ‘kaleidoscopic’ societies. Faced with the upheaval in values, increased communication and the diversity of artistic events, criteria for appreciation have altered and definitions of culture have multiplied. It is thus important not to yield to the pressures of conformity and mass consumption and sustain and nurture the transcendent creative forces of humanity.
Patrick Vauday emphasises the differences that exist between current conditions and the situation of art throughout history. How should the adverb “still” be interpreted in the title of the seminar “What power does art still have?” Does it suggest that the power of art is exhausted, or on the contrary, does it suggest renewed hope? Rather than speaking of the eternal essence of art, he prefers to observe that art is always in situation. But if art is always of its time, it is also against its time. It is untimely, it brings a “supplement”, as Deleuze has emphasised. It is both the emanation of its age and what the age cannot contain. It is the inscription of the visible that existed but was unseen.
Miguel Ángel Estrella gives a moving personal testimony of his experience as an international concert pianist and socially engaged musician. He explains why he created Musica Esperanza: to put music to work for the cause of human dignity. He has seen how getting very poor people to play music can be a source of reconstruction and renewal, particularly in Amerindian communities in Latin America.
The article traces the history of Native people’s perception of art and its role in their portrayal. It notes a significant change in this perception over the last thirty years, which was fleshed out in the creation of new cultural institutions and by the texts accepted under international law on the specificity of these cultures.
Gerald Vizenor, a member of the Chippewa tribe (Anishnaabe), White Earth Reservation (Minnesota), discusses the concept of ‘survivance’, which he distinguishes from mere survival as ‘an active presence’ a struggle against the forgetting, uprooting and deletion that have affected certain groups, in particular, the Amerindians. Through literature and the use of irony and derision he attempts to transcend the victimization and stereotypes that continue to cling to the image of Native Americans.
Steven Shankman discusses the genesis of a remarkable and singular work, influenced by calligraphy and traditional Chinese art, and which today forms part of national French collections (Centre Georges Pompidou and Musée d’art moderne, Paris). Hidden during the war by a friend who introduced her to traditional Chinese art, Colette Brunschwig was seduced by the practice of calligraphy, the ‘interiority’ of painting liberated from the notion of representation, and by ‘le vide à la source de l’inspiration’, in the words of Marinette Bruno. The work of Emmanuel Levinas, particularly his theory that the truth of testimony is not the truth of representation, guides Shankman’s thinking throughout the article.
There is a long line of scholarship on the demiurgic function of art, attesting to its timeless origins in many communities’ sacred rites and beliefs. Enshrined in imagery, symbolism, fiction and myth, the arts command deep-seated forces of the human imagination, both individual and collective. UNESCO’s founders were aware of this and insisted that the Organization’s scope exceed the ‘sole political and economic arrangements’ between nations, and envisaged its task of ‘wide diffusion of culture and the education of humanity’ as a ‘sacred duty’ of these nations. Today’s increasingly interconnected and multicultural global setting calls for renewed thinking and research into how art can and does make a difference.
© 2008 - UNESCO