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Art and the Politics of Change

Liberty Leading the People, Eugene Delacroix, 1830. Oil on Linen, Collection of the Louvre, Paris.

Art and the Politics of Change

By Saskia Ozols

To destroy a country’s art is to destroy its identity.  Art is one of the first things a culture at war with another seeks to destroy; and one of the first things a culture in danger seeks to protect. 

The events this year surrounding culture and the arts have been tumultuous. We have witnessed both destruction and guardianship of art involving major military force, identities, ethnicities, countries, and leaders. The recent bombing of the Kuindzhi Art Museum in Mariupol, Ukraine and the return of the medusa mosaic to Rome by the US just a few days ago serve as examples from a long list of contemporary arts and culture related politic. If such grandiose efforts occur today surrounding the arts and their relevance to a culture, then why are we allowing the widespread transformation of educational environments where the future of the arts, its practitioners, and its scholars are at stake? 

Universities and schools throughout the US are rapidly closing art departments, discontinuing the major, and moving money to fund other things. This disembodiment of an historic intellectual discipline from the common curriculum deserves attention. The current economic, educational, and cultural environments within academia and the transformation of many universities to profit seeking entities create questions and beg discussion regarding the role and value of art.  The manner in which contemporary organization of these delicate entities impact culture, society, and progress dictates our movement forward with vital contemporary social issues such as diversity and inclusion. 

The arts function as a path into diverse understandings of community, experience, and information. When we consider why art matters and what exactly art is we further our relationship with society, with culture, with concepts of “other,” with communication, critical thinking, and belief systems. How we value art and its related history has a direct relationship with how we value or interact with behavior and tolerance. 

Reading Aristotle, we understand art as a form of education. Looking at Plato we assess questions on the relationship of art with other disciplines and manners of thinking. The investigation of reason and rhetoric are directly connected to practice and communication through art. The arts occupy a role in the process of learning which cannot be divorced from other methods; their stability, future, and place within the structure of educational environments and society at large deserves discussion, transformation and change. 

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