Photography has come a long way from the early days when the camera was regarded as just a scientific instrument. The history of photography has taught us that photography is indeed an art.
But lately I have been running low on inspiration and have been questioning why I make photos. What is the point of it? Why bother? Is it even important? Is art important? So I did some reading and thinking and I’m happy to say that yes art is indeed important! Art is extremely important and this is why.
If you can’t imagine it you can’t make it. Science fiction has long been a vehicle for artists like Arthur C. Clarke, George Orwell, Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Gene Roddenberry, and others to ask ‘what if’ and imagine what could be in a different world through their art. Their art gives us a look at things that could possibly be, and sometimes the things they imagine become actual real things.
Graphic, set, and prop designers working on Star Trek imagined tablets before tablets even existed. The hand held communicator from the original Star Trek series was art before it became a real thing thanks to the Wand Company. Google even built a prototype a Star Trek communicator, unfortunately they abandoned the project. H.G. Wells’ the World Brain described what would later become Google Books which has been documented in Google and the World Brain. All of these things were born from an artist’s imagination before they became real things.
Art imitates life or does life imitate art? The acclaimed TV series Breaking Bad wasn’t all fiction, there was indeed a real Walter White, and a real-life Saul Goodman. The historical drama television series Vikings is inspired by the sagas of Norse Viking legend Ragnar Lothbrok. George R. R. Martin, the author of the novels that the TV series Game of Thrones is based on, draws inspiration from armour, weapons, and events that occurred in medieval Europe. While these shows may not be the most historically accurate they do turn life into art. Without real life to draw inspiration from we wouldn’t have such works of art as the afore mentioned shows.
But art can do more than just help us imagine what could be. Art can also challenge the status quo and change minds. Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s art helped change corporate policy. Ai Weiwei tried to place a bulk order for Lego bricks that he wanted to use for a piece of art work in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. Lego refused to honour the order, citing it’s policy of not endorsing political statements. Ai Weiwei saw the stance as censorship and discrimination. A slew of negative media reports followed. After a barrage of bad publicity Lego changed their mind and decided to sell Ai Weiwei the Lego, just as long as it is made clear that Lego doesn’t endorse the resulting work, which goes for everyone else. If Ai Weiwei didn’t want to make his art with Lego he would never have had a reason to challenge Lego and Lego’s policy would have remained the same. Maybe another artist might have tried the same but would another artist have the same outcome? Who knows. The important thing here is that an artist affected a change for good through their art.
Art is a mirror. Art is important because it mirrors life and reflects back to us what is important to us. Ai Weiwei’s afore mentioned art installation reflected the importance of human rights by depicting and quoting people that have made an important contribution to human rights which is something that is extremely important to society. In the same exhibition Ai Weiwei crafted a sculpture which reflects the importance of freedom using the bike as an icon of freedom. In China the bike is an important icon for freedom as it lets people move about easily and gives them the freedom of movement and lets them travel larger distances than they would otherwise be able by foot. Being able to travel larger distances opens up new opportunities like being able to travel from a regional area to a job to earn money which allows the provision for essential things like food and shelter. These trips might not be able to be made by foot or would take a lot longer. The importance of being able to do something quicker is that it give us more time to do other things or to do more in the same amount of time. There was a time when it took minutes or longer to expose a photo. For example in the 1800s a portrait took minutes to expose and even a slight moment could have ruined the photo by rendering the subject blurry. Advancements in technology allow us to expose a photo faster, a portrait can be exposed in a fraction of a second. The ability to expose a photo in less time has made it possible to capture images that would have been impossible in the early days of photography. The invention of the rangefinder, a small, discrete and fast camera has made street photography possible. However I digress, time is a matter for another… time.
Art helps define who we are and helps define our culture. Art and culture are so tightly intertwined that it can be hard to separate them. Art reflects our cultural values. For example the ancient Egyptians placed a high importance on order and conformity which can bee seen in their art. Every Egyptian artist that ever depicted the human body used a grid to keep the proportions right and their art uniform, this grid can be applied to all of their art. This grid and these rules that they used in their art reflects the value they place on order and conformity in their culture and society. For thousands of years Egyptian art never changed style, in fact Egyptian art never changed style for as long as the Egyptian civilisation lasted. If you take a walk through the Karnak Temple Complex in Egypt, which was built over many years, from the oldest part to the newest part of the temple you can see that the way they depicted the human body never changed.
Humans make art and art makes us human. Art sets us apart from other animals. How we express ourselves is one way in which we are different to other animals and each other. What we choose to wear, eat, drink, how we talk and act is influenced partly by art, think movies and music. How we express ourselves can even be art in and of itself. No other animal that I know of makes art to express themselves.
There are at least ten reasons why art is important to a child’s development. Art allows kids to express themselves better than any other subject like maths, science, or history. Artistic skills are transferable to other subjects and kids who practice art perform better academically. Art is important for helping young kids to develop their fine motor skills. Art helps develop a kids confidence. Art teaches kids how to use use and interpret visual information. Art teaches decision making, perseverance, focus, collaboration and accountability.
Art transcends language barriers which means you don’t need to speak the same language to enjoy art or find meaning in art. Music is a prime example of art transcending language barriers. In fact music can do more than transcend language barriers, music can be a complimentary medicine to more conventional medical treatments and solutions for ailments of the mind as well as the body. It has been proven that music therapy can help fight ailments of the mind and body like depression, dementia, and anxiety.
Art helps us explain ideas. Art and artists help people in fields like science illustrate abstract concepts. In this way art helps us understand and gives meaning to things that we may not understand in other ways. Visualising something can help us learn and understand new concepts and ideas. For example a scientist can describe what an atom is, what it looks like, and how it works in relation to other things but an explanation of such a concept is still foreign to and might not be comprehensible to many people particularly those who aren’t that interested or familiar with science. People who aren’t interested in something aren’t going to dedicate an amount of time to trying to learn something, if they can’t grasp it quickly they forget about it. But an artist with an interest and understanding of science can illustrate the idea via an illustration or animation and help people understand a concept. If people can understand an idea, a concept, or learn something new quickly then it turns them on to new and different ways of thinking.
In another example the 1966 Sci-Fi movie Fantastic Voyage tells the story of a scientist who is nearly assassinated, in order to save the scientist a submarine and it’s crew is shrunken down to microscopic size and is injected into the scientists blood stream. Years ago this sort of thing would have remained strictly science fiction but today art, technology, and science is coming together to allow us to journey into the human body using virtual reality which has huge implications for research and education. Science and technology alone aren’t enough to turn science fiction into science fact, art is essential to making Fantastic Voyage a reality. Without artists to create the visuals for the virtual reality experience Fantastic Voyage would remain an interesting and neat idea in a science fiction movie.
So yes art is important, it is extremely important. Without art we wouldn’t understand as much about the world as we do. There are so many more reasons why art is important but I think the most important reason why art is important to us all is because it enriches our lives in so many different ways. Can you imagine a world without art? A world without art would be bland and dull. A world and life without art would hardly be worth living.
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