Project 3

Project 3

Art Inspires Emotion

What is the purpose of art during trying times?

Everyone has had a song stuck in their head before. Why is it stuck there? Maybe it’s because of the catchy tune or the memorable lyrics, but the common factor is that music impacts everyone. In fact, not only does music impact everyone, but so does all art. In a magical way, art has the ability to spark emotions in people of all different backgrounds in order to create an interconnected web of human emotions. This is what makes art such a powerful medium for change. Nina Simone, an American singer and songwriter of the 1950’s and 60’s, claimed that “An artist’s duty…is to reflect the times.” The question of whether art’s purpose is to be political or not is controversial. Ravi Rajan, author of The Hill article “All Good Art is Political,” argues that art is unimportant if it does not reflect the times, and artist Titus Kaphar speaks on the importance of art in politics in his TEDTalk “Can Art Amend History.” On the other hand Nate Mancini, author of the ForeFront article “No, All Art is Not Political,” argues that political art is polarizing. With the increase in politics found in our everyday lives today, it is easy to see how a lot of art can somehow be interpreted politically. But this does not take away from the importance of non-political songs that we listen to for pure enjoyment. Although the purpose of art is not solely to “reflect the times” and there are numerous pieces of art not based on politics, art is an extremely influential medium for change that reaches all types of audiences and we must take advantage of that. 

Art is a powerful medium to reflect political and societal issues, but it is not art’s duty to reflect the times. There are many common examples of powerful art pieces throughout history that reflect the political climate including political cartoons, songs, and poems, but there are also many examples of art that are not fundamentally political. Nate Mancini explains that “If all art is political, it will always be polarizing. But if art connects us with our humanity, it can be unifying”(Mancini). In other words this means that if all art were to be political, there would never be anything to unify a harshly divided world. On the other hand, Ravi Rajan states that “We as a society should no longer be interested in a world where art does not change us in our assumptions and our beliefs”(Rajan). This means that forms of art that are not fundamentally political are unimportant and should be ignored. The problem here is that art has so many more purposes than persuasion. Art brings out emotions such as happiness, anger, jealousy, or sadness. There are many art pieces that bring out strong emotions towards political issues, but those powerful pieces are just as important to society as the songs we sing loudly with our friends and the stories we read to our children that are not politically based.

The purpose of art is to reveal a story and it does this by appealing to emotions that people can connect to. Mancini claims, “The chief function of art is to awaken our awareness of and desire for that which is transcendent… Art deals with themes, with feeling, with beauty- things far deeper than politics”(Mancini). In other words, art creates emotions by appealing to the senses; it goes beyond the normal physical human experience. In his TEDTalk, Titus Kaphar demonstrates just how well art can bring out emotions and tell a story, especially a political story. Kaphar himself states that “All this art history that I had been absorbing helped me to realize that painting is a language” (7:20). This means that art is a medium for storytelling. Whether it is a book, painting, poem, or song, it appeals to the senses and evokes emotions about a specific topic or theme. This also shows that art is subjective to the person and the story they are trying to tell. Although art does not have to be used in a political sense, Kaphar demonstrates how it can be used as a medium for change, not by erasing past history but by using art to tell the story of now. An example is his piece titled “Behind the Myth of Benevolence,” which depicts an African American behind what looks to be a wealthy white man. Whether the artist is trying to provoke change or not, art creates a story that people can relate to on an emotional basis. 

Music is a powerful medium to provoke change that reaches many audiences. For example, Joey Bada$$ is a rapper from Brooklyn who released his album titled “ALL-AMERICAN BADA$$” in 2017 addressing police brutality. Much of his album discusses the struggles of black people in the United States and especially in relation to the police. In an interview with Dan Hyman, author at The Rolling Stone, he stated “My greatest power is my voice so it starts with me bringing [these topics] into the conversation and putting it in the music”(Hyman). This means that he knows his voice is powerful and that he needs to use it. It can be seen in one of his songs titled “For My People,” where he relays “You can see the power when the mic is in my palm/When I storm across the room, hit the stage and perform” (1:15). In the same song he goes on to claim that “Music is a form of expression/I’ma use mine just to teach you a lesson/Rule one, this microphone’s a weapon” (2:35). In other words this means that music is powerful, especially in the hands of a famous rapper who is trying to inspire his audience to stand up and create change. Joey Bada$$ draws in audiences of all backgrounds by using powerful words in his music, stirring emotions in his listeners and creating a shock factor.

Joey Bada$$ is effective in stirring emotions in his listeners. In many of his songs he uses shocking statements and powerful words. In his song “Land of the Free” he states “3 K’s, 2 A’s in Amerikkka” (0:30), and in his song “Y U Don’t Love Me?” he accuses “Never look me in my eyes to say sorry/Because Amerikkka don’t love me/Whole country turned on me”(2:00). Joey Bada$$ uses his platform for change by reflecting the times in his music and by connecting people through emotionally charged lyrics. Although some may say it is art’s duty to reflect the times, I still insist that non-political art is just as important. As much as those emotionally charged lyrics are memorable, there are many other songs that remain fixed in my head that are not political. These songs are some from my childhood, such as “Fireflies” by Owl City, which I used to sing with my mom in the car. These are also songs that remind me of people, such as “Hell N Back” by Bakar which makes me imagine my old boyfriend and me sitting through the sunroof of his car at the sunset, and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles which reminds me of waiting in a long line at the drive in movies the first summer we dated. Every time I hear these songs it takes me back to those moments and the feelings I had. These examples prove that good art is memorable art; it becomes associated with emotions and experiences. Whether it is a relatable story being told in a poem, a painting that reminds you of somewhere you have been, or a song that is associated with a person or place, art’s duty is to inspire emotion. 

Since many artists have a large platform and many fans, art can be one of the best ways to spread ideas and beliefs. Because of this, art can sometimes be political and reflect the artist’s beliefs- but that does not mean all art has to. Art’s duty is to connect people through stories and inspire emotions whether they are politically driven or not. Joey Bada$$ has been an influential artist for my generation of listeners, which is why I picked his music to reflect on. Some of his most popular songs today are the ones that are politically charged, and he is mostly known for using his platform for change. If I had the opportunity to ask him about his music I would start first with asking him why he started rapping, and what specifically made him decide to rap about this topic. I would also ask him if he was planning on producing music about the more recent protests that occurred during the summer of 2020 and continue to occur today. If I were to write a song to reflect the times and spark important conversations I would write about mental health. I know numerous people who have struggled with mental health, and with my generation’s push to destigmatize mental health I feel that it would be a powerful topic for a song. Artists such as Billie Eilish are already tackling mental health in their songs, and she has been an inspiration in this generation of music. While artists must take advantage of their platform, if we begin to politicize everything in our lives there will never be anything truly unifying. Mancini states “We’re in desperate need of things that unite us”(Mancini). This means that instead of further dividing a world that is already fragmented, art should be used to unify humans through emotions. With this in mind we must ask ourselves, do we want art- which for many people is a form of escape from reality- to only reflect issues in society?

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