Describe the influence of the arts on shaping human values, and of human values in shaping the context, form, and practice of the various arts forms
Art and various art forms have influenced human values for as long as human society has existed. Art can be a source of entertainment, education, and tool for communication. In many medieval societies, art forms like puppetry were used for education and entertainment purposes. The incident cited in class that occurred in 1643, when theaters were closed in England due to the perceived ‘danger’ paused by puppeteers, indicates the social impact that art can have as a tool for shaping human values.
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In an oppressive and discriminative society as was the England of that time, art in the form of puppetry was used to impart a sense of freedom in individuals. Puppets were thus used to pass positive moral and political messages.
Today, art takes diverse forms and shapes. Because art is timeless, even today, puppets are still used to convey certain messages to the appropriate audience in various instances. For instance, an audience of children would benefit a lot from the use of puppets in shaping their values. Art forms are found in cultural artifacts, paintings, plays, music, and films. One of the most powerful art forms of the twenty-first Century is movies. Through films and documentaries transmitted through various media, many people across the world get entertainment and education.
In many third world countries that have been ravaged by war, hunger, and diseases, art, in the form of plays and poetry, offers not only a form of entertainment, but also creates an avenue for communicating messages that promote the welfare of the society. For instance, Uganda successfully used art forms like plays and poetry to limit the spread of HIV/AIDs in the country successfully (Nabulime and McEwan 280). Many sculptors created sculptures that depicted the adverse effects of HIV/AIDS on society, and this strategy soon bore fruits and in a few years, this method of influencing human values through art, lowered the prevalence of the disease in the country.
Because humans are the ultimate creators of art, human values play a role in determining the context, form, and practice of art forms. One of the most basic and enjoyable human acts is laughter. Therefore, the human value of need for enjoyment and laughter creates comedy as an art form to satisfy these values. Comedies take various shapes and forms, including plays, stories, drawings, carvings, and paintings.
Humans also have a need of appreciating art simply for its aesthetic value. Therefore, many drawings and paintings are made to satisfy the human need and value for appreciating any art form simply for its intrinsic, aesthetic value. For instance, a painting such as the famed Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci has been admired for many centuries for its sheer beauty and artistic worth.
On the other hand, many artistic paintings drawings, sculptors, novels, plays, films, and other art forms are created for their monetary value. Many pieces of paintings and drawings are sold for huge sums of money to interested buyers (Nikodijević 185). Many films fetch handsome returns at the box office; similarly, plays performed on stage rake in huge sums of money from the attending audiences. All these endeavors are created by the human value for economic returns for work done. Indeed, many artists practicing different art forms use their artistic abilities as a source of income.
How did this affect your sense of values? What is the role of art in this “emergence”?
Having witnessed the emergence of representative voices from varying social and cultural standpoints, my sense of values was impacted in different ways. Firstly, during the various discussions, with classmates and in the many attempts, we made to understand art forms from diverse representative cultures; I learned the value and importance of patience. Many times during the discussions, I felt that my views were completely different from those of other students in the discussions, but I slowly learned to allow others to express their understanding of the art forms without undue interruptions. Therefore, I earned the important value and virtue of patience through taking this class.
Secondly, through learning from representative voices from various varying social and cultural standpoints, I became outward looking, and learned that other cultures also have the same values as my own – learning this course was a humbling experience.
Therefore, in a sense, taking this class has been a revelation to me – a cultural experience. By learning the various cultural art forms available in other cultures and societies, and learning from these cultures, my own understanding of my culture was heightened. Subsequently, my interest in understanding other cultures was piqued, and I now appreciate, as Hellström puts it, the value of artistic research in creating meaning on the cultural artifacts of various cultures and societies (310).
The role of art in the ‘emergence’ of the voices of these various cultures stems from the fact that, the various art forms from these different cultures form the basis of discussion and the subsequent attempts of understanding these art forms. The cultural artifacts and material cultures of a given society depict the cultural norms and beliefs of these societies. Therefore, these art forms are the primary voices that form the foundation for discussion and analysis of the cultures in question.
For instance, the collective drawings of a community usually depict the community’s cultural practices that revolve around important milestones in the life of the people of the community such as birth, initiation, marriage, and death. The songs and oral narratives of the community also tend to revolve around these important cultural milestones. Therefore, art plays the role of creating the foundation for subsequent discussions on the various cultures and societies – the emergence of the various voices.
Art also plays the role of economic emancipation in the emergence of these voices. Many of the material culture, cultural artifacts, and artists involved in various art forms can earn an income from their artistic pursuits. The investment in the collective artistic works of a given community or society has the potential of lifting the economic standards of these communities and cultures (Jurevičienė and Savičenko 1120).
The painter can sell his paintings, the musician his music, the sculptor his sculptures and the storyteller his stories. Subsequently, as these collective art forms gain prominence among other communities, the voice of the community is heard, and the role of art in bringing out these various emergent voices is affirmed. Therefore, all the art forms from different societies and cultures that I was able to study and draw lessons from, or simply enjoy the aesthetic value thereof, were the results of an artist’s primary voice.
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How did you negotiate any encounters of personal or collective bias, prejudice, intolerance, and/or discrimination?
Situations of personal or collective bias, prejudice, intolerance, and/or discrimination are inevitable in any sphere of life, and art is no exception. Throughout the study of this course, and in the analysis of controversial art and artists, I have learnt to appreciate divergent views. I have realized that most of the times, acts of discrimination, prejudice, or bias are a simply due to ignorance on the part of the perpetrator; therefore, I have resolved to try to understand and educate the perpetrator of such forms of discrimination. Conversely, I have also learnt that an act of discrimination in one culture does not necessarily connote the same in another culture.
In such instances, a person may thus mistakenly believe that he or she is a victim of prejudice, even though that may not be necessarily the case. For instance, in many Islamic cultures, women are not allowed to greet adult men by actual hand contact; such contact is considered morally wrong. A man, from a non-Muslim culture, that may not be aware of this practice by Muslim women, may feel slighted and discriminated against in a situation where he offers his hand to greet a Muslim woman who in turn respectfully refuses to shake his hand. Ultimately, I have learnt that situations of discrimination, especially those involving persons from different cultures, mainly arise from the lack of understanding of the different cultures involved.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon the persons to try to understand these instances of discrimination in the cultural context in which they occur. Discrimination in the arts can take the subtlest of forms; for instance, when theaters reserve the front seats for the ‘high and mighty’ of society and attach high costs to these seats, which leave persons who are less moneyed to scramble for seats in the back of the theatres is discrimination in disguise.
The arts have always played a significant role in social change throughout the history of human society. As long as societies have existed, various forms of social injustices and discrimination have also existed. Art not only mirrors society, but also influences society. Although there are many cases, where art has been used for negative social change or maintaining a discriminative status quo in society, art has largely been used as a vehicle for positive social change.
Through stories, novels, paintings, puppets and sculptures, art has been used to influence society in a positive way since the emergence of human society. In many kindergartens and schools, drama through plays and puppets is used to inculcate moral values in the children. Many of these plays and puppetry, shown to children, contain a moral lesson at the end, and these lessons learned in childhood offer guidance to the children as they grow into teen hood and adulthood.
Art can also be used as a means of attaining justice especially in societies that have been involved in conflict. According to Mani, many women use art forms like painting to seek justice for crimes committed against them during conflict (545). In such instances, art offers a cathartic effect to the women who, together with children, are the ones who experience the greatest suffering during conflicts like war. Art in the form of novels has also been used for positive change. Many novels written by great novelists have stirred changes in societies and such improves the welfare of the people of that society.
For instance, Charles Dickens’ novel, Hard Times, is largely credited with highlighting the discriminative use of children laborers in the industrial England, and the subsequent legislation in the English parliament that outlawed child labor is an example of the positive social change of art. In schools and colleges where art is taught, the interactivity amongst the students from various cultures fosters peace on a wider scale (Ash 13). Therefore, art is a vehicle for positive social change.
Ash, Katie. “Art and Music Learning Emphasize Interactivity, Real-World Relevance.” Education Week 30.35 (2011): 12-14.
Hellström, Tomas. “Evaluation of artistic research.” Research Evaluation 19.5 (2010): 306-316.
Jurevičienė, Daiva, and Jekaterina Savičenko. “Trends of investments in art.” Economics & Management 16 (2011): 1115-1123.
Mani, Rama. “Women, Art, and Post-Conflict Justice.” International Criminal Law Review 11.3 (2011): 543-560.
Nabulime, Lilian, and Cheryl McEwan. “Art as social practice: transforming lives using sculpture in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention in Uganda.” Cultural Geographies 18.3 (2011): 275-296.
Nikodijević, Dragan. “Art, economy and the market the “aesthetic syndrome” and market rules.” Megatrend Review 7.2 (2010): 183-199.