Is Art Still Relevant Today?
by Annie Saxena on Feb 09, 2023
What does a painting on a wall, a dance performance, a meme, a selfie & a street art have in common? They are all art. To put it simply, art is anything that evokes a reaction – positive, negative or anything in-between. There is no specific definition of art. From its beginnings on caves to being considered as the hobby of the elites to being a medium of marking territories, art has managed to survive the confines and practices of what was considered as ‘true art’. In what ways is art still relevant today? Can it function as medium of change or it is merely to be admired?
Art is a form of performative and visual language, and can be an important contribution to an existing discourse or even in creating a new narrative around a particular issue. Art exposes and helps resolve issues of social justice. As a cultural tool, art helps humanize and actualize the emotions, grievances, and fears of those who may not have another place to voice concerns. As an illustrative and journalistic tool, art shocks and inspires us to action. What art depicts can elicit is a visceral, almost cellular, reaction. For instance, in the September of 2014, artist and student Emma Sulkowicz began her senior thesis, Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) (2014-15), a startling piece and ambitious work of endurance that famously involved Sulkowicz carrying a standard Columbia University mattress around campus with her at all times. The burden would quite literally be lifted only after one of two things happened: when the student who Sulkowicz (and subsequently others) accused of raping or sexually assaulting them left or was expelled from the school, or with her own graduation. Her endurance piece compelled many to act in a transformative way—one that spoke both to and beyond her specific case.
Generally art and popular culture have been considered as polar opposites. The money-minting nature of mainstream media which monetises on overused and repetitive tropes has caused art which could challenge the perspective of masses to distance itself from popular culture. This is causing a only certain forms of art to precede others. However, art that challenges mainstream perspective can have a positive impact. For instance, Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade highlighted the struggles of Black Women because of their race and gender, and was an important contribution to the narrative around the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Art is everywhere, whether we consciously realise it or not, and that’s why it continues to be relevant. Art & cultural institutions such as Pearey Lal Bhawan play a key role in preserving art over decades and thus, have become a visual biography of their surrounding culture. Mallika Sarabhai, a pioneer of using dance and the arts for social change put it best in her TED Talk, ‘Dance to Change the World’, “What I need to say to the planners of the world, the governments, the strategists is, ‘You have treated the arts as the cherry on the cake. It needs to be the yeast.”