Why is art important?
I wish I were good at math. Math is pragmatic, logical and incontestably valuable to our society. Being pragmatic in order to contribute to our society made the most sense to me when I went to university.
After majoring in law, I shocked everyone when after 4 years of hard work, gave up a promising career as a lawyer to get a second degree in an unrelated field – Art History. The drastic change was due to art being a universal language. It speaks to us on an emotional level, often comprehended cross-culturally. In addition, in our globalized world, intercultural abilities are becoming increasingly important.
Art is a form of non-verbal communication, which connects us with different cultures, even past times. When we exchange mere facts, understanding happens on a rational level. Throw in art, and you will see compassion and empathy blossom – which are keys to wholesome human interactions.
Instagram, with an estimated worth of US$ 100 Billion in 2018, thrives on the concept of social interaction via images. Social media understands that a picture says more than a thousand words. The photo of the so-called 'Napalm girl' running from an aerial napalm attack on June 8, 1972 is one of the most iconic images of the last century, and it exposed the horrors of the Vietnam War in 1972. It still evokes emotions today. The photograph attaches feelings to the facts of collateral damage. It moves us to the core, and speaks to our hearts.
Art is more than images. Architecture, sculptures, gardens, city- and landscapes, music, fashion, interior design and so many more are works of art.
While art is generally assumed as something visually pleasing, beauty does lie in the eye of the beholder -- while you may find the Berlin Armoury is just another historic European building, I find it extremely fascinating. In fact, I dedicated my Master's thesis to the sculptural composition of its courtyard.
The sculptural décor of the courtyard depicts a statue of Friedrich III, Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia, and his soldiers who fought beside him against the Turks in 1691 and in the so-called Rheinfeldzug. Those sandstone figures express the agony of battle so magnificently, it makes you wonder how a lifeless material is able to transport such tangible human emotions to its audience. Contemplating any piece of art can make you think about how an artist's life has affected her or his creative decisions and the circumstances of their creative urge.
There have been several studies on the importance of culture and arts as actors to prevent, counter and reduce the consequences of violent extremism and radicalisation of the youth. Without going into too much detail, it is argued that specifically educational institutions should create opportunities for young people to write and produce art that resonate citizenry, cultural identity, diversity, unity, equality and the value of human life and family. Fostering artistic expression can help nurture creative pathways rather than destructive ones through the arts. Culture and a rich cultural heritage plays a significant role for social cohesion and cultural identity and peace.
Art inspires us to learn, to understand and to look beyond the facts. Different channels of communication exist, so all of us find ways to express ourselves and connect. My choice to become an art historian was driven by the desire to make Art accessible for those who would like to understand it better. I have not given up on my math skills, but for now, I will stick with art.
The author is a German art historian, trained in Germany and the United States. She currently lives in Dhaka.