Updated on 28 Feb 2021, 7:20 pm
Representational image (PHOTO: Pixabay)
Artists play a huge role in the society of the world in a plethora of different ways. Art has been created, observed and enjoyed by ordinary individuals since years ago. While artists are often undermined by society in the modern day but without them we would be missing a huge part of history and knowledge about ourselves and how people lived in the past. There is no denying that art from a given time in history or a distinct geographical location can offer insight into culture that we would otherwise have no knowledge of. But sometimes art tells us more about the artists than the society and culture that surrounds them. At times, art feels like it reflects the very core of humanity. Other times, it is purely aesthetic, a luxury, and a rare indulgence. Art can portray the rich complex beauty of the natural world; it can also make bold, ugly, raw statements that are unsettling, challenging and far from beautiful. With all these vastly different sparks of inspiration, what is the role of an artist? Is the role of an artist who seeks beauty and an aesthetic end result any different than that one of who looks to make statement of political or intellectual value?
Art has had many different purposes throughout the history. How has the role of the modern day artists changed? It is clear that artists have many different roles, but no matter what medium they use or style they explore to create art. Art that is beautiful, art that is political, art that is accessible, art that challenges, art that is expressive, art that is cryptic. The very basic idea is that artist themselves and their factual and realistic or surreal, symbolic and expressive. From the days when cave walls were daubed with rich mud to show animals and primitive people, artists have used their medium to show things to others. You could say that the role of the artists is in part to describe life but also to shed light on aspects that may otherwise be missed. When you considered the work of Albrecht, Durer, you will recall the fine detail and technical accuracy that he exhibited. This sense of realism was common in art until Cubism and the Avant –grade movement came into play, bringing with them a fashion for conceptual stylized and cerebral work. Different art movement has not only caused the style of art to evolve, but have also caused a shift in the role of the artist.
In the ancient world, the classical artists were actually a laborer. Painters, sculptors and craftsman were label as artisans. They would take over the trade from their father- meaning art profession was not a choice but an inheritance. Artisans practiced technical excellence but there was no formal training and artistic expression was not encouraged. In the middle ages, artists would learn their skill through the apprenticeship system. Most art was anonymous and was produced by people considered to be craftsman rather than artists. During this time, the art profession advanced the most. In the medieval Europe, master craftsman were recognized as honorable and responsible member of the society. The Renaissance was the time when artists were recognized for their work, it signified the end to anonymous work. Thanks to Giorgio Vasari and his infamous book” The Lives of the Most Excellent painters, Sculptors and Architects” artists specially started to gain a bit more recognition and respect. Merchants stated to use art to express power and wealth. During this time art was seen as an indulgence and a luxury. Poets, philosophers, scholars and mathematicians were held high regard; they were seen as intellectuals and were much cleaner than artists. Artists were anxious to be given the same level of respect as these revered members of society. They started to include more complex themes within their work adding details that would not be recognized by the untrained or untutored eye. Platonic ideas, scientific theories and astrological details started to occur in Renaissance art work, changing the role of the artists significantly and paving the way for art as it is seen today as a way of expression on an emotional, intellectual and even political level. The Baroque court artist was employed to give a country a sense of persona. It was also used to influence what people wore and how they behaved. In this regard it was the earliest form of art as a form of marketing. The role of the court artist was one of the promotion and advertisement. By the turn of 20th century, society artists were painting highly complementary portraits that portrayed wealth, beauty and good taste. The artist’s role was to beautify the subject of each painting, making them appear more attractive, thinner and more beautiful. These artists were making society seem more appealing as well as beautifying individuals in a similar manner as Hollywood and paparazzi do to this day.
When art was made by people who were considered to be artisans, it was very much seen or a job with no room for expression or individuality. Artisans experienced little freedom and the role was controlled by those in power. When the Renaissance introduced the idea of using art as an expression of independent thought, the first seed of revolutionary art was shown. Throughout time, artists have realized that art can play a significant role in shaping history. They have let go of the idea of descriptive art and found a more profound means. Revolutionary artists have seen the potential in using art as a form of social progress. Artists such as Goya, Daumier and Munch simply portrayed society in such bleak and disturbing conditions that they made people think about social change. Other artists have been considered revolutionary for their abilities to think outside the box and try new brave techniques and expressive styles. Their work is not necessarily political or offering social commentary but it does offer an insight into the times. Artist in this category include Ratisse, Manet, Picasso and Cezanne. Bohemian artists follow a non-conformist lifestyle and abandon structure and convention in favor of art. Bohemians are also enchanted by the discoveries of the Romantics. They believe that emotions are the ultimate truth; there is no distinction between art and individual expression and intuition of creativity. Bohemians and Romantics believe in art for art’s sake; art forms the crux of their life and it’s as important and integral as religion can be for some people. If revolutionary artists are political radical, then Bohemians artists are social radicals. They focus on changing how people will think by accessing their emotions. The emotional impacts of their art is strong and of great importance. Bohemian artists also often include contempt for the middle classes and element of self-destruction and a belief that an artist must suffer. The protest against the society and conformity often does not take an artistic form but more of a behavioral one.
The modern artist can take on any of those roles or perhaps even an amalgamation of them all. Many artists have elements of the artisan or society painter in their professional life producing aesthetic commissions based on the orders of those who pay them. They may also use art to express their own political or emotional concepts. It is common nowadays for artists to have a number of roles to fulfill different aspect of their lives. Art to make many, art to gain recognition, art to make statement, art as a form therapy, art as an emotional release. Nowadays illustrators, graphic designers and industrial designers have taken the place of the artisans of the past. Perhaps you can recognise several of these roles within your own work. Art can be an escape from reality, used as a chronic of the times or be something we all can relate to. It can be catalyst for change, be instinctive, feed our culture reflect nature, and soothe the soul. It can be an absolute indulgence and luxury; it can be anything you want it to be. The role of an artist is as mercurial as the artists’ inspiration and ideas, it changes constantly, evolving as the years churn by and adapting with the same frenetic pace as society. Artists are in fact: a vehicle for expressing universal emotions; they are responsible for unearthing the truth; they illuminate the margins and make societal changes; they tell stories and pass on traditions; they connect with and inspire people globally; record and preserve our human history; they offer message of hope; they are ambassadors of the natural world and create a sense of humanity.
Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
Faculty, JCRE Global College, Imphal, Manipur. The writer can be reached at email@example.com