Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist Victor Pinchuk said, “Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics.”
Art has been a part of the human experience as long as there have been people. It’s served many purposes, from the practical to the philosophical. Great pieces of art offer an expression of beauty and human creativity. Art allows for freedom of thought, yet can also be used to influence our thinking.
For centuries, art has been used as propaganda. Churches, for example, used it to influence the thoughts of the faithful during the Protestant Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. It’s been used to display the grandeur of kings and the greatness of political revolutions.
Adolf Hitler, a failed artist, commissioned art to display his romantic and racially-motivated views of Germany and the Aryan body. However, the Nazis also tried desperately to control other forms of artistic expression. Their 1937 exhibit of “Degenerate Art,” for example, was intended to mock creative pieces that provoked thought and contemplation. Many artists under this regime were either exiled or imprisoned.
Freedom of expression in the arts is as fragile as freedom of the press. It’s also as vital to human rights as freedom of thought. Regardless of how one feels about an artist’s work, we must allow for diversity of opinion without judgment if we’re going to live in a truly democratic society – as long as the art doesn’t violate other human rights.
Canadian actor, comedian and artist Jim Carrey has recently caused a stir with his political satire pieces. Some people celebrate his work and some condemn it. Is his work simply bringing about healthy discussion or does it cross a line?
One of his most controversial pieces is that of what is said to be American President Donald Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. While Carrey hasn’t confirmed that it’s Sanders, the statement he tweeted along with the picture has been brought into question: “This is the portrait of a so-called Christian whose only purpose in life is to lie for the wicked. Monstrous!”
While the subject of the artwork is not clear, the accompanying text is. Carrey definitely holds people who profess to be Christian to a higher standard than the rest of the population.
As a Christian, do I find his statement offensive?
My faith holds truth as one of the highest ideals a person can seek. In fact, the quest for truth is a lifelong journey that I know I’ll never perfectly attain. It’s therefore vital that I continue to not only ask questions of myself but be open to questions from others.
How would I feel if I were told that my purpose in life was to lie for people doing horrible things?
I would feel judged but I would also want to engage in dialogue with the person who made the statement. My intention in doing so would be less to defend my actions than to come to a better understanding of myself and the goals I was pursuing, and thus become a better human being.
Is this not the purpose of art? To not only celebrate what’s beautiful in the world, but to encourage reflection and dialogue?
Only human beings are capable of creating art and only we can engage in dialogue in the quest for truth.
This is the meaning of being human. As we question and challenge one another, we not only become better, the truth becomes clearer and the world moves forward in beautiful ways.
Thank you to all artists who risk being seen and being questioned in the journey for truth.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.