Can Art Really Make a Difference?

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    Hello brothers and sisters,

    I am an art historian at an American university. Almost all my students are aspiring artists. I wanted to get your opinion on a vexing question that I often ask my students. Can art bring real positive change in the world? Can art do anything to help solve our problems? As a lover and scholar of art, I want to believe that it can, but I’m not sure. The answer that I usually get from my students is, “Yes, we can make the world better, because our art can call people’s attention to problems.” To which my follow-up question is, “What people?” Currently, the audience for art is mostly affluent, well-educated people, who are more likely to care about issues like environmentalism and social justice (and, one might say, at the risk of sounding cynical, who can afford to care about those issues). So is art just preaching to the choir?

    More important, can art just call attention to problems, or can it take the next step and actually begin to solve those problems? I think an art of direct engagement is a real possibility.


    From the point of view of someone who does art and does not put it up for sale, I can tell you that art changes the individual. The act of creation itself uplifts and inspires the spirit of the artist, and that emotion is transferred to the viewer (usually along with many other emotions the artist did not anticipate!) Aesthetics aside, a true work of art acts on the heart, mind and spirit of the one who created it and the ones who view it. In that sense, it will change the world, one person at a time.

    As far as calling attention to and raising awareness of social issues, art can be instrumental, but as you have pointed out, possibly only to an elite few. That doesn’t mean an artist should not attempt to communicate such awareness. A particular position on a universal issue more than likely has great personal value to the artist, and there is that desire to communicate to others.

    Just my $2.98.


    I think the process of creating art can make a difference. Where I live, there are several organizations dedicated to bring art to kids who may not have access to it otherwise, all the way from elementary school to high school. These organizations are focused in neighborhoods with higher risk of youth being engaged in troublesome activity, such as gangs, and other violence. Also, one organization provides artists a fellowship, with a small stipend, access to their own private studio space, as well as use of the facility. As part of the artist’s fellowship the must do a service project for part of the community. A lot of times these artists bring in other people as well.

    I do believe art can make a change, it’s making a change in a part of town that has a fairly negative connotation in a lot of people’s eyes and I think it is a change that only art could make. This could speak to art fixing issues in society possibly.

    I agree that involvement and engagement are key. Maybe more installation or performance pieces or something in that nature, social experiments if you will, need to be done in some artistic manor so that people would be aware of issues. This could also help get away fro the issue of only catering to an elite few, take the art out of the museum.

    Also, while art does cater to possibly to an elite few, I believe that the message has to start somewhere, and think that art is a great way to “talk” about social issues because there’s no language barrier. Everyone has an understanding of a piece of art, no matter what language they speak.

    I’m a studio art major, also getting my K-12 teaching certificate, so this is a cool discussion to see on here 🙂


    Thank you so much for your responses! Since you find this a cool discussion, allow me to continue it, if I may.

    It’s a shame that we traditionally define art as something that has no practical, “real world” value. We even use the phrase “art world,” as though artists existed in some parallel universe. But what if other creative acts could be considered on a par with art? What about if, instead of putting a chunk of Arctic ice in a city square to “call attention” to the problem of climate change, an artist simply created carbon offsets and called it art? After all, solving problems like climate change requires creative thinking too, no?

    Andy Warhol, in his typically cynical way, said that success in business is the highest form of art. So couldn’t we say that saving humanity and our planet is the highest form of art?


    I think you’re definitely correct that solving problems definitely requires creative thinking, that can be taught better through creative outlets like art, theater, and music. I wish people didn’t have such a shallow view of the “art world” as you put it. It’s not a parallel universe, because it’s all around us, in this universe.

    While Warhol may have been cynical about it, he is correct in a way. I think that’s maybe what lead him to the whole pop art idea, recreating successful business icons, such as the Campbell’s, or successful people, like Marilyn Monroe.

    I agree that saving humanity and our planet should be higher on the radar than it seems to be presently. People are ignorant it seems to what is happening all around them, much like some think art is only in museums.

    Considering what Warhol said, shouldn’t big, successful companies do more with their power and social responsibility? If we start with influential businesses and have them think differently, more creatively, perhaps, would we start to see a change in how social issues are solved if everyone was involved?


    Dear jfsher91:

    In your original post you wrote: ” Currently, the audience for art is mostly affluent, well-educated people…”

    My input is that affluent and educated people, the artists and audience have fears, anxieties, worries, hurts, sadness, anger, rage, mental challenges, despair… and so, they can express that in art and see that in art.

    What’s in the eyes of the Mona Lisa? What is that lonely feel in that picture? Etc.

    This is the difference art makes for me: an expression of emotions and experiences on the part of the creator and a validation of emotions and experiences on the part of the observer (and what the creator intends to express is of course, not the same as what the observer sees as what we see is what we project).

    The Arctic ice chuck in your example, I don’t see it as art but as a a piece of ice representing the disappearing ice in the Arctic. Might as well be a picture of ice, or the word “ice”- i don’t see the creativity there because there is only one projection when you observe it: ice. When there are several possible projections, or even thousands or as many projections as there are viewers, then that is art for me.



    As an artist myself, I’ve wondered for a long time if art really can make a difference, and whether or not I’m selfish for wanting to fulfill myself by making art when I could be out trying to save the world.

    I find it very interesting and confusing, however, that you assume that “art” is only viewed by affluent, well-educated people. Art is everywhere. Art is all over TV, music, the internet, and especially social media. Art, digital art, can go viral, which means that art is viewed by people from every country and every walk of life that you could ever imagine. Poor, rich, young, old, male, female, white, black and everything in-between. I wonder if your definition of “art” is only large oil paintings in a gallery in big cities, or outdoor installations in big cities.

    I think that when artists, including animators, musicians, etc, take to the internet to showcase their art, those emotions and messages present in their art will reach thousands, possibly millions of people and can most definitely be an important influence. That personally makes me feel better about being an artist who wants to help make the world a better place.

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