Art In Society

Art can serve a variety of purposes in society, both positive and negative. The contributions of art to society can be evaluated through pragmatic philosophy.

Art can bring awareness to people. It is a powerful means of presenting truths about humankind that cannot be expressed any other way. Art also connects people in a society by presenting an idea that everyone can relate to in a universal way. The awareness that comes from art will only lead to a better society if the people take action based on the ideas they discover in art.

Art has the possibility of making society better, but there are several steps involved. First, the art must reach the public. Then the people must appreciate the value of the art. The last step involves people changing their behavior to improve the society.

The initial action of making art available to the public is necessary for the art to have any impact on society, but it is not necessary in classifying the piece as art. John Dewey was an advocate for bringing art to the common people. His pragmatic approach has some value because art will not change society until the people can experience the art. One problem with the theory is that art may have value aside from promoting positive social changes. A wonderful novel may be burned before it could ever reach the public, but the novel could still be art. The possible impact was never realized, and it is a loss to society.

The second step toward changing society involves the reader, viewer, or listener. The reaction to art should involve a new appreciation for the human experience. Art may depict positive aspects of life such as love, beauty, honor, and devotion. The negative human conditions like fear, hatred, and injustice may be just as meaningful in art. It follows that a viewer will have a strong emotional response to art because the ideas expressed are universal in nature. This is similar to Plato's theory of Forms. The Forms were universally understood ideas. The ideas are also deep and require the viewer to consider the art carefully. The concept of isolation that is expressed in Edward Hopper's Night Hawks can be understood by people from other cultures and other time periods. Isolation is part of the human experience, and all people can understand this idea from the painting.

Society will only improve when the public is so moved by art that they take action. Sometimes the change may be noticeable on a large scale, but often it is very localized. Van Gogh's painting Sunflowers might improve society by causing people to appreciate the small and natural beauty that surrounds them. In contrast, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin helped a stronger and more recognizable change. The book showed the people of the North the brutality of slavery and aided in the Abolitionist movement. Art holds the possibility to improve society, but there are only results when the public can experience and understand the art.

Art also involves a connection between the viewer and society. Art can encourage understanding or expose misunderstandings. These are parts of the human experience that relate the individual to society. The new awareness can be a benefit to both the society and the individual. The individual gains better understanding about his or her place in society and about the society as a whole. The society will profit if the individual puts this new understanding into practice.

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