As an artist and as a student of art, I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating the role and importance of art in the world. With so much suffering and turmoil, there are times when the pursuit of expression can seem insubstantial. “Poetry makes nothing happen,” W.H. Auden famously points out, it’s “A way of happening, a mouth” (In Memory of W.B. Yeats). But what is the role of this mouth in the face of Moloch (to quote Ginsberg indirectly)? What can we as artists do to make a difference?
In the video below, John Green walks viewers through the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Ai Weiwei exhibit and discusses this very thing. He says that good art gives form to “love and anger and grief,” which is why it matters so much. I’m inclined to agree but I have to go one step further. Good art (or perhaps all genuine art, if such a term can be used) not only gives form to powerful emotions and experiences that might otherwise be lost, it gives them a form that generates empathy in its viewers and readers and listeners. Good art creates genuine empathy – and that’s why it matters so much.