Can art change the world?

JR - Phnom Penh

JR – Phnom Penh

It’s nice to think that the pen is mightier than the sword. It is even nicer to think that since a picture says a thousand words, a paint brush should be worth a thousand pens.

But can we change the world with our art to show our paint brushes are mightier than all the armies of the world?

On a basic level, I tend to think the world would be a more thinking, connected, appreciative and inquisitive place if there were more art within it. Van Gogh said it well when he said,

“A good picture is equivalent to a good deed.”

I should clarify that one of the key points in his quote was “good picture.” I would define a bad picture as one that unsuccessfully tries to visualise a stated viewpoint. In such cases, the picture is not worth a thousand words; it’s worth nothing more than a full stop. No more to see here.

A quote by street artist JR articulated well what I am on about here:

“In some way art can change the world. Art is not supposed to change the world, to change practical things. But to change perceptions. Art can change the way we see the world. Art can create energy. Actually the fact that art cannot change things makes it a neutral place for exchanges and discussions, and the enables you to change the world. What we see changes who we are.”

I like JR’s take because it doesn’t elevate the artist as a beacon of enlightenment that has a gospel to impart. Instead, the artist is someone is someone who is themselves open to be changed, either through their art or their discussions with others. If the artist is not open to change, then I doubt the audience will either.


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