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Does Art Influence Society?

Updated on November 21, 2016
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40 years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

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Should artists give what people want or what they need?

Do you think that society imitates art or movies? Or do movies and art influence society? So we see more blood, guts and gore in thrillers; is it because we have seen it and it "doesn't do it" for us anymore? Or do the artist/directors/producers want to keep pushing the threshold to cause more and more shock value and keep people coming/paying?

I find people are generally curious about things that are evil/intemperate and maybe they just can't help themselves. We know we should turn away, don't look at or listen to what's bad but we just can't help it. Isn't that why there are so many cars slowing down to rubberneck an accident scene? We just can't help ourselves. As artists, should we give people what they want because they pay us, or should we be innovative and creatively giving them what they need to see, such as truth and beauty, love and justice? Or can we? Just asking.

Saying Grace
Saying Grace | Source
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of Speech | Source

Norman Rockwell

Are paintings like the Norman Rockwell classics a thing of the past. Sure, we love them. The painting “Saying Grace” recently sold for $45 million dollars, proving there is a market for nostalgia. But is that all it is, nostalgia? Don’t we want to see more wholesome, uplifting art in this country, or is it just that paintings by Rockwell are a time cut from the past? I want to be another Rockwell type painting pictures of the true good in this country and not the evil zombie side of life. Does this mean that my work will never sell till I am dead? Perhaps. It’s true that Rockwell’s work is a time of the past. When was the last time you saw someone able to stand up and speak in a town meeting like “Freedom of Speech” or a family dragging a freshly cut Christmas tree back from the woods? Not too often, to be sure.

Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conneticut
Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conneticut

Massacres and Shootings

I think some movies are truly for shock factor (i.e.: the "Saw" movies), but I also think that movies are both inspired from events in society and society in turn is affected by movies (i.e.: the "Dark Night Rises" Colorado Massacre). Life imitates art and vice-versa. I'm not quite sure what human nature's fascination is with bloody, violent, or shock-factor art and films, but it goes back thousands of years; in ancient Rome, the bloodier and more violent gladiator arenas or public executions were the better attended. It kept the people entertained and not rioting against Roman authority. Perhaps it's our primal animal instincts that draw out society's fascination with violence or the macabre. I think some artists and filmmakers are simply drawing on those primal instincts, but art shouldn't be completely based on the shock-factor, but should draw out inspiration, creativity, and a lighter side of human nature. I think Plato would agree.

Good and Just

I have been contemplating it for some time. It really disturbs me when things like the Colorado Massacre happen, and I keep wondering what is going on with people and art. But I guess it is more like which came first, the chicken or the egg. Yes, art imitates society and vise versa… but do we really need to keep following that spiral downward? Isn't there some sort of moral obligation to elevate the Good, Kind, Encouraging, Just, Helpful, and Hopeful. As artists it's up to us, isn't it? I think Plato would agree with that.

Does society influence art or art influence society?

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We want more.

It seems the more of anything we have in our lives, the more we take it for granted (in general), and thus we want more and more. It's like addiction. We love music so we want more: the radio must be on in the car, in our homes, at work, plugged into our ears when we run and exercise, etc. Is this bad? Not on the surface but it makes me wonder when the addiction will end. You can’t always have more.

"Imaginary evil is romantic and varied: real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring: real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating. ‘Imaginative literature,’ therefore, is either boring, or immoral, or a mixture of both."

— Simone Weil
Vitruvius Man
Vitruvius Man | Source

Literature, Movies, TV and painting.

It has oftentimes been said among patrons of literature that your story is only as strong as your villain. From my opinion, conflict is the heartbeat of any dramatic story. Once the conflict is resolved, the story is over, and conflict in a story is always brought about by some form of evil, suffering, or misfortune. Perhaps that is why we find it so intriguing. The thrills of fear and pity, with none of the actual risk.

That said, I think it just makes our job as artists, writers, and musicians all the more important. We have to make a statement for good so exciting and enticing that it competes with all the other things out there that bring the moral fiber of society down.

"The Christian writer does not decide what would be good for the world and proceed to deliver it. Like a very doubtful Jacob, he confronts what stands in his path and wonders if he will come out of the struggle at all."

— Flannery O’Connor
Dark Priestess
Dark Priestess | Source

Storytellers

As an artist, I am essentially a storyteller. As a storyteller, my goal is to speculate upon and the issues at hand around us, both the good and the bad and the moral ambiguities that go along with them, and invite the audience to explore them with me in the controlled environment of creative storytelling. I've found from experience that as an artist we usually cannot change the culture by conscientiously trying to do it. All we can do is to offer a starting point encouraging people to think, not an ending point telling people what to think. So long as we do our work honestly and with a sincere passion for the work, it can and often will, positively influence those who choose to partake of it. My intention as a storyteller is discover things through the story, not to tell people things.

"Propaganda occurs when a writer is directly trying to persuade, and in that sense, propaganda is not bad. … But persuasion is not story, and when you try to make a story out of persuasion then you’ve done something wrong to the story. You’ve violated the essence of what a story is.”

— Katherine Paterson
The Problem We All Live With
The Problem We All Live With | Source

Horror and Nightmares

The sublime is always intriguing [sublime is not just beautiful, it is more the beauty of mystery--good or bad]. I actually don't look at an accident, I don't want that imprint in my mind...not that I don't want to look; I just know better now. I don’t watch horror movies either. I stopped long ago because the nightmares kept me up for weeks and I still had to function, go to work, take care of children and a husband, etc. The bottom line to the last question I think is the reason for making art.

Do we make art to edify or to shock? Is art, movies, music, literature, etc., supposed to make the world better or just entertained? Yes, it is entertaining, but not all of it is edifying. Not all art is good for children to see or hear or read. My rule of thumb has been, if I shouldn’t let my children see that, then maybe I shouldn’t see it either.

Roots
Roots | Source

The moral condition

I think what I am getting at is that I see a trend... not for good art but for the almighty dollar that demands a certain kind of art. I remember when I was a child; there was some pretty terrible racism all around me. My uncle came over one day and he and my father was laughing about the bombing of a church in the south where some black Sunday school children were killed. It is very embarrassing to admit coming from a family like that. Yet when Roots aired, my entire family was riveted to the TV (as were a lot of Americans were) for a week. They were changed by it. An awareness took place that week... something we (I guess I have to include myself) had never thought of before. It was a different point of view... a walk in another man's shoes, as it were. Did Alex Haley create this work as propaganda? No. But this was innovative art from a very authentic place that changed lives and improved a morally dark condition. I think it's time for it again. Wouldn’t you agree?

"Generality is the enemy of all art."

— Konstantin Stanislavsky
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Issues that need to be addressed.

I have several issues that I think need addressing. I think it is time for another Alex Haley-type epic to address the severe underground racism that has emerged recently (or is it just that it has had the light thrown onto it), but I don't feel qualified to address something I have only seen and felt from the outside. How can I ever know fully what it means to be black in America today? But there are other issues that are screaming for attention as well: child abuse/neglect, child abductions, childhood obesity, cyber bullying, dumbing down of educational system, RAD, ADD, ADHD, and other childhood diseases/conditions that need cures or at the very least understanding and awareness. I could go on and on.

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you, Ann. I feel we artistic-types have been given a sacred trust. A talent that shouldn't be taken lightly and should be used like the great power that it is... for good... for changing things for the better. We should be thinking of how we can raise awareness of the things of the community we live in with artistic influence. If we can't change the world, who can? I do feel we reflect a lot of what is already here, but we can also raise the call for good in the world. We weald the wands of great power and influence. Thanks again for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      I think you summed it up in your 'Storytellers' paragraph. Be it writing, painting, photography or whatever medium, we can tell a story to influence thinking, evoke emotions. That has an impact on some. It can reflect society, it can reflect nature. We are giving a viewpoint, visual or textual, and inviting opinions and reactions. It's our way of making people think about issues.

      Great hub; as I've said before, you're making us all think deeply.

      Ann

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Reynold Jay,

      Thank you so much for that confirmation. I guess these are things we should contemplate often given the influence we have and the way money and compensations can sidetrack the best of intentions. I appreciate your words of wisdom on the subject.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      2 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      I decided to read your HUB once again! Your basic header question was around when I was in college taking art classes and I remember my teachers discussing this. You do cover all the bases--it is worthy of a shelf of books as there is much to consider. In that you are a successful artist ( and writer) carries weight to discuss this with authority. My thought is that there are always those who pander shamelessly in every field. As artists and movie goers ( SAW) we can see the pandering and dismiss it as being exactly that.

      Real art will be readily apparent to other artists( and others) and it will most often be embraced as something worthwhile. You do well to contemplate these thoughts at HUBPAGES. Well done.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      lawrence01,

      I think you are right... as much as any person can influence those around him he/she should. If each of us chose just one issue that they see as needing attention and spotlight as being wrong, and then set out to create works of poetry, music, visual art, blogs and articles about it, wouldn't the world be that much better for it? I think so. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Denise

      Chesterton said that "All it takes for evil yo prosper is for good men to do nothing!"

      I think your hub was a reminder that art (all forms) shouldn't so much reflect society as lead it!

      We have the news bulletins that can easily tell us what's wrong and stuff, shouldn't art be exploring ways to help put them right?

      My thoughts anyway

      Lawrence

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      lollyj lm,

      I still like to read uplifting books about people's lives and history, things that are good and innocent. So usually I choose Young Adult novels. They have a little romance but nothing seriously dirty or vulgar. They have conflict but usually have a happy ending where some adult books leave you hanging. I just hate that. I'm a child at heart I think. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      CorneliaMladenova,

      I so agree with you. We have enough to fear and cry about, I don't see why I should pay to go see more at the movies. I would rather pay to laugh and feel good about myself and the world. Maybe that means I am not very sophisticated but it is the way I think. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 

      2 years ago from Washington KS

      Excellent hub content, very well written. As a child decades ago, the beauty and wonder of art and the books I read then were a great influence on my philosophy of life. I prefer the beautiful and wonderful of visual arts -- including movies -- to the ugly and violent realism we often see today. The same can be said for books then and now.

    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 

      2 years ago from Cork, Ireland

      Thank you very much fro this wonderful hub, Denise. Our world is so full of rudeness, brutality and cruelty. In my humble opinion, art should strive to be beautiful and divine and to help people escape from the dark reality. Just for awhile... :)

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Perspycacious,

      Thanks, I got your email. I've been furiously working on my thesis projects and nothing else for months. I do get a break in January. That's a little late for your project but I'm still interested.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Nadine May,

      That's a very insightful answer. I know when I go to people's homes, I like to glance over the titles of books they may have on the shelves (or as you say, lack of books) and the titles of DVDs they may have. It says a lot about the people as well as the art on the walls. I only have one sister who consistently hangs my paintings I give her as gifts. The others thank me but slide the gifts under the bed or stuff them into a closet. When confronted they tell me it doesn't match their style. But when I look around, I don't see much "style" going on, if you know what I mean. Thanks so much for your comment.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      I like your choice of an opening photo here.

      I just sent you an email on another subject I had mentioned above.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      This was truly a great article. When you wrote: our story is only as strong as our villain, this reminded me of the many soap-operas. I often feel that today we are more and more desensitized through the TV and the media about the horror that is going on in the world. That in itself is truly alarming. Personally I'm more drawn to art that has more of a multi-dimensional flavor. Imagery story telling will always be a reflection about how we individually see our reality, and therefore like the books in peoples homes, or the lack of, or any kind of art if any, that tells a lot about the people that live there.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Well said, my friend with the fabulous name. We have a responsibility to do as much good and uplifting work as possible while keeping people aware that there is a darkness growing that needs to be baptized in truth. I fear a lot of my peers and colleagues in the art industry sacrifice truth for finance and merely do what will make a buck rather than what will uplift and edify the masses. Thanks so much for your thoughtful response to my question.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      This is definitely food for thought. I look at the writings I have witnessed that speak of the issue of mental health. There is much that has been said, but not all of it is worth reading. Reality can be brutal, as you have noted, as well as dull and ignorant. We walk a delicate balance when we create with words and pictures. We want people to take notice, otherwise, our work is for naught, but do we sacrifice value in the process? That is the million dollar question!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Larry Rankin,

      I appreciate your comments.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Perspycacious,

      Thank you so very much for your encouragement. I hope your advertising proves profitable. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Obviously both.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Detailed, nicely illustrated, and thoughtful. What more can we readers ask?

      Thanks.

      Printing some of my Christmas story and advertising in a local paper which features a "Holiday Items" roster I think might be worth the try. I will let you know via email how that seems to be going.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Reynold Jay,

      So true. We want to read about conflict but we don't wish to encounter it in real life. We are an enigma as a people, are we not? I agree about the horror and suspense flics, I don't watch them; I mostly hear about them from my grown kids and my friends. I have no desire for the night horses. When I was 13, I was babysitting and stupidly put on the late-late show which happened to be The Blob. I was terrified out of my skin and the folks didn't come home till after 2 a.m. I never wanted to see another scary movie again. I know, I'm a light weight. And now the horror movies have gotten so gory and bloody that The Blob is laughable. That just shows how deep into the darkness we have sunk as a society, I think. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Buildreps,

      Well said! Nice break down of the misunderstood gifted artists vs the less gifted with foresight artists. I have to agree somewhat, but it saddens me to think that the gifted ones don't get any credit for their foresight till years after they are gone and buried. Ah well, that's life, I guess. Thanks so much for weighing in on this question.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      2 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      Well now--All kinds of thoughts that go in many directions in this one. As to the SAW movie, I was able to watch a tiny bit and that was too much! In fact horror films of any kind are now off my list and I don't care how great it supposed to be. I think you are understanding just a bit that society is somewhat "lost." When sense of purpose disappears, much of the traditional values are lost with it.

      Then you have the basics of writing mentioned too. CONFLICT is what it is all about, but in real life it is best not to encounter it.

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 

      2 years ago from Europe

      Wonderful article, well written and well crafted. Many compliments to you! I believe art is both influenced by society and vice versa. The best, most gifted artists are often misunderstood in their time, as if they can look ahead in time. The less gifted artists often express what is going on in their current time, giving the collective unconscious feelings a 'face'.

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