Does Art Open Minds?
Now – that is a good question. Does art open minds?. Does it? And my answer is found in a great book by Susan Sontag “Regarding the Pain of Others.” if you are interested in social/political art “Regarding the Pain of Others.” really helps you understand the usage and meaning of images –in the case of this book – primarily photography.
In the book, Susan Sontag uses the idea of photographs representing war and violence, showing the sufferings of others. And the question arises , “. Does the viewer become acclimated to the images and thereby feels no need for action or do they take up action. Do we just become sympathetic to what is being depicted? Do we think that because we have an emotional response we somehow relieve ourselves of a need to take action? Because I view the image and feel your pain I am somehow relieved of any further responsibility to take steps to resolve the conflict that may be depicted? And if I see enough images of paint and suffering do I become inoculated to the suffering – and thereby take no action whatsoever?
Opportunities to Change
As Sontag has said, “One of the distinguishing features of modern life is that it supplies countless opportunities for regarding (at a distance, through the medium of photography) horrors taking place throughout the world. Images of atrocities have become, via the little screens of the television and the computer, something of a commonplace. But are viewers inured — or incited — to violence by the depiction of cruelty? Is the viewer’s perception of reality eroded by the daily barrage of such images? What does it mean to care about the sufferings of people in faraway zones of conflict?”
That is the question. What do we do when we see the images of suffering of others? And does the artist face the same dilemma? When I create a political piece of art what does that mean to me? By creating the piece does that relieve me of the responsibility to do something more? Is that my way out of taking a active role in making change? I have been told by other artists that by creating a piece of art is taking action. I don’t think so. I don’t feel so. It’s is just the easy way out of facing the issue. “Look, this is what I created. See? I feel something? I’ve done my part.” No, I have not.
“That we are not totally transformed, that we can turn away, turn the page, switch the channel, does not impugn the ethical value of an assault by images. It is not a defect that we are not seared, that we do not suffer enough, when we see these images. Neither is the photograph supposed to repair our ignorance about the history and causes of the suffering it picks out and frames. Such images cannot be more than an invitation to pay attention, to reflect, to learn, to examine the rationalizations for mass suffering offered by established powers. Who caused what the picture shows? Who is responsible? Is it excusable? Was it inevitable? Is there some state of affairs which we have accepted up to now that ought to be challenged? All this, with the understanding that moral indignation, like compassion, cannot dictate a course of action.” ― Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others