[Featured Image: Ardith Starostka, “Persephone. ” Oil on linen, 30 in x 20 in.]

By Kara Lysandra Ross

I was in Epcot Center in Disney World last year, and in the Innovations Center they had a computerized survey, which had already been taken by thousands of people. The survey was based on what broad issues or groups the participants thought were going to be the most important and influential in the next 20 years. Out of all the items people could choose from, art was near the bottom in terms of importance.

Many people view art as a luxury, something to decorate a home with or simply something for people to view or create for fun or relaxation. In truth, art lies at the core of the human existence and there it has the power to not only influence an individual’s thoughts or beliefs, but actually shape nations.

As you may know I write a monthly column in The Epoch Times, which is a large international newspaper that publishes in 35 countries and 19 languages. This newspaper was founded by Chinese ex-patriots who fled China due to religious persecution. The religion, Falun Gong, which is wide spread with about 100 million practitioners, was developed based on pre-communist traditions, similar to Buddhism in that it is non-violent and is deeply rooted in meditation.

One of the founders of the newspaper, Dana Cheng, told me that in China they believe in two kinds of weapons. The first is arms, such as guns, bombs and tanks, and the other is art and culture. It is as possible to destroy a society by stripping away its art and culture as it is to do so with conventional weapons. This is why in the 1960s and during the rise of Chairman Mao in China, all books on traditional Chinese culture and art were burned, and the paintings and art objects themselves were destroyed. This period is known as the Cultural Revolution and over 10 million people were killed, many trying to protect their heritage.

Determination under Persecution, by Qing Xin, winner of the gold award at NTDTV’s 3rd International Chinese Figure Painting Competition.

 

Today, the practice of Falun Gong is banned in China and those who practice are imprisoned, and in some cases tortured and killed. Paintings depicting religious Falun Gong images and those that show the abuse of Chinese citizens by the Chinese Communist Party are banned. Some artists who do not wish to stay silent and paint images that are banned in defiance of the laws, know that if they are caught they will go to prison or worse.

The winner of the most recent NTDTV art competition is one such example. The painting depicts a Falun Gong practitioner being tortured. The work already is showing signs of cracking from the conditions required to smuggle the painting out of China.

Realist art and literature have the ability to communicate, shaping beliefs and therefore societies, which is why many governments view the arts as something that needs to be controlled. Nothing says more about a culture then the art it idolizes. It represents what it values, what it thinks about, and essentially what it deems worth remembering. Art is the representation of a people, encapsulating its essence on every level. By attacking the art of a culture you attack the culture itself.

China is not the only country that banned art for this purpose. It has been said that the English banned the Scottish bagpipes in the 1700s as a way of attacking their heritage. The Polish press was liquidated, the libraries and bookshops were burned, and their paintings and sculptures destroyed by the Nazi during WWII, and in addition we are told over and over again that many Arab countries view the spread of American art and culture, such as film, painting, and music, as both a threat and an attack of their beliefs and society. Art is indeed a power of its own, otherwise it would not be viewed as such a threat.

Much of modern art, such as Abstract Expressionism and Dadaism, was intended as an attack on society because at its essence it says that the human form, our hopes, dreams, and fears, were not important, that they are not worth painting or sculpting.

An article titled “To Create = to Destroy?” put out by the University of California, Los Angeles states: “The idea of destruction was built into the ideology of modernism: old culture and its arts have to be destroyed to make room for the new: modernism wants to begin from ‘tabula rasa,’ or ‘point zero.’… The idea of destructing the old was already present in Cubism (Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque): their paintings and collages destroyed the Renaissance tradition” and the modern movement of Futurism was “a passionate attack on bourgeois society and its values.”

Modernism has claimed that their intent was to attack the wealthy, but in actuality they attacked humanity as a whole. You need a lot of education to understand and appreciate an abstract expressionist work, but anyone can recognize and sympathize with an image of a grieving mother or a painting of a beautiful garden. Those things are universal to the human condition. Splotches of paint are just splotches of paint and are nothing but a cynical statement of mankind and its accomplishments which as far as the modernists are concerned amount to nothing more then Duchamp’s fountain, aka a toilet.

Modernist leader F. T. Marinetti, who in 1909 wrote the 1st Futurist Manifesto stated, “We will destroy all museums and libraries, and academies of all sorts; we will battle against moralism, feminism, and all vile opportunism and utilitarianism.”

Although the modernists never burned the museums, they did remove most of the fine art from their walls, hiding many of the best works in the basement and in their stead hung canvases painted with solid color, or in some cases nothing at all. Today most modernist works take a fraction of the time that a realist one does and therefore the galleries have a larger inventory to work from. In addition, modernist works bring much higher prices at auction then those by the artists they claimed at the time to be opportunistic.

In an article recently published in the New English Review, titled “The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism,” Mark Anthony Signorelli writes,“Nothing is so important to the spiritual and mental flourishing of a people as its art. The stories they tell, the buildings they inhabit, the public spaces in which they gather, the songs they sing, the fashioned images they gaze upon, these things shape their souls more permanently and effectively than anything else. We live in a time when the art all around us accustoms men to, and insinuates into their souls, the most erroneous and degrading ideas imaginable about themselves and their world. A humane society can hardly be expected to grow out of such an adverse cultural environment.”

On a more uplifting note, there are also many examples of how the creation of art has impacted societies. Jacques-Luis David, The Death of Marat in 1793, became the symbol of the French Revolution and rallied men to battle against the Reign of Terror. Rembrandt is considered to have changed the way the world viewed depictions of Jesus Christ when in the mid-1600s he painted eight heads of Christ with a non-Western European look that sent the religious world spinning. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle played a role in improving working conditions in factories, Elizabeth Thompson’s battle paintings spurred military reform, Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped bring about an end to slavery, and the writings of Dickens and his painter and sculptor counterparts such as Auguste Mulready,J.G. Brown, and William Bouguereau helped bring about awareness of the need to help the poor, to name a few.

Remember, artists play one of the most important roles in our society. And for those who do believe in a higher power, is not the earth or the universe God’s artistic creation? Today, realist artists are shaping our nation and the world into a better place, where once again freedom of thought and real communication can be disseminated though a canvas. With their diligence and effort, a picture is once again worth a thousand words versus needing a thousand words to understand it.

Adapted from Kara Lysandra Ross’s speech at the 7th annual International Guild of Realism (IGOR) exhibition. Ross, the director of operations for the Art Renewal Center, is an expert in 19th century European painting.

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One Response

  1. Joshua Philipp

    Well put. Realist art will always play an important role in our society, and I think that the further the mainstream of art drifts from it, the more it will stand out as something unique and beautiful. The expressive qualities it allows are really unsurpassed and the skill required to create it means that it can be a path without end, where the artist grows more and more talented and since what they paint is based on reality and its intricate details, their understandings of the world around them can grow deeper and deeper.

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