Clash: Art Raises Awareness

By Catarina Wilk

Unquestionably, art in all its possible forms and variations is a feast for the senses.
What comes to your mind when you should describe the term “art” to somebody? What does “art” actually mean to you? Well, the majority of us definitely comes up with ideas such as beautiful paintings, art installations, exhibitions, art performances and traditional museums. So far so good, but there is so much more to say. Art is a phenomenon that involves creativity that can be described as a powerful (but peaceful) weapon which can provoke and effect us in many different ways. When art raises awareness…that’s how one could start a long story that has its roots way back in the days.

Let us start with the great era of Symbolism, its art and influence on people in this period of time.
As you know, Symbolism was definitely an artistic (and literary) movement that initiated the spectator to have a closer look at the art work’s forms, lines, shapes and the play of colours. In this epoch, as the name already suggests, the use of symbols in the actual art work play an important role which have to be identified and interpretated in order to understand the art work as a whole and the artist’s main intention. Speaking of this, each symbol had a specific meaning and it was the spectator’s task to read the art piece’s “code” in order to reveal its message behind.
By ending the tradition of representational art from Classical times, Symbolism’s artists tried to emphasise on emotions, feelings, ideas and subjectivity by portraying the occult, the morbid, dreams, death and the evil in their art through specific stylistic devices.

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Hugo Simberg. The Wounded Angel. 1903.

At this point, however, the question immediately arises: what does this have to do with awareness? Well, art always has a purpose and it has many different ways of dealing with social matters in different time eras.
One example of this is doubtlessly Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. Well-known for being one of the most influential artists of the early 20th century, his famous painting “Guernica” is an example of promoting peace through art. It is believed that “Guernica” is an anti-war painting which was painted as an immediate reaction to the bomb attacks by German and Italien warplanes on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War to mirror the horrible results and tragedies of war.

Pablo Picasso. Guernica. 1937.

Another example of anti-war painting that should definitively be mentioned is Francisco Goya’s painting “The Third of May”.
By creating this painting, Goya depicts Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s armies during the occupation of 1808 in the Peninsular War.

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Francisco Goya. The Third of May. 1808.

Interestingly, today’s art continues this direction in various ways. Art is not primarily a beautiful art piece, but can also be seen as a medium that is able to raise social and environmental awareness.

With regard to environmental awareness, French artist and sculptor Paul Grangeon and the World Wildlife Fund, created over 1600 small pandas that have been made out of paper from recycled materials. By touring through ten major cities in Asia as well as around the world, the number of pandas represents the shockingly low animal population of only 1600 pandas that are living in wilderness these days…

French artist Paulo Grangeon
Paul Grangeon. 2008.

Water is life and a scarce resource…The Word Above the Street’s Water Tank Project aims to raise awareness of the water crisis in developing countries.
This open-air exhibition features works by acclaimed artists on water towers throughout New York.

The Water Tank Project. Lorenzo Petrantoni. Image by Elizabeth Christopher Art.

Raising awareness of the decline in bees…that is at matter that is close to street artist Louis Masai’s heart. By painting huge bees on The Ocean Fish Bar, the artist reminds us that intense farming and today’s agriculture are the bees’ biggest enemies…

The Ocean Fish Bar. Image by Jon England.

Another way of raising social and environmental awareness through art is The Washed Ashore Project which is a non-profit, community-based organisation that aims in educating and creating awareness about marine debris and plastic pollution.

Washed Ashore. SeaWorld Orlando.

It is believed that the best way to raise public awareness is to confront as much people as possible on a day-to-day basis. In this respect, street art is utterly perfect for that. The Belgian street artist called ROA creates stunning images on the streets to illustrate the disastrous results of animal hunting and environmental pollution and other environmentally by humans.

Street art by ROA.

Jugo de Manglar 001Alejandro Duran, a photographer was walking along the calm shores of Sian Ka’an which is located on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. This stunning landscape and nature reserve which consists of a extraordinary mixture of jungle, wetlands and one of the best coral reefs in the world. However, no great beauty like this is shielded from the destructive side of human Nature. Duran was shocked at the amount of garbage was washed up on the shore. In order to raise awareness about this saddening phenomenon, he created a powerful photograph were he placed all garbage he found on the shore. The outcome was staggering and definitely made people think twice about littering!

As you can see, art in its various different forms has the power to reach and, most importantly, to move people in order to provoke changes. One could almost say that it might be one of the most important mediums to change people’s thinking, to make them conscious about what is going on in today’s world. Creativity meets public awareness…that is definitely a trend worth following.

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