About 10 years ago I was covering a class for a teacher who was absent. Schools often utilize their staff during their preps to cover absent teachers if no substitute teachers are available. The class I was covering was art for juniors in high school; the timing, the second week of February. The assignment left by the teacher was to make Valentines Day bags; you know the kind most of us perfected making before our ages reached double digits. I found this to be unacceptable, so I changed the assignment. I proposed the students to begin a project in which they represented in any form of are what the following statement meant to them: Art is a reflection of society.
Much of my career has been that of an English teacher. Much of my efforts in those years has been presenting literature within the scope of context; in other words, what in the world was going on, in the world, that influenced the author to construct the literature. Examples of this can be traced to primitive aural mythologies where the myths presented explanations for things that didn’t make sense to the people of the area, during the middle ages where there was a vacancy of religious faith and thus literature expressed ways to live well and the proposition of free will, many cultures have reacted to governments’ treatment of their citizens through satire; hell one of the greatest movies of all time, “The Wizard of Oz” was an allegory that ridiculed and caricatured American citizens and the government, particularly the president, during the time of the Great Depression and the beautifully poetic prose seen in the art of Norman Rockwell who took on transient topics of the world and the people encased in the world.
I began in education toward the beginning of reality television becoming something that was popular. Shows like “The Real World” and “Big Brother” were showing their influence on citizens. I viewed how children impersonated the mental defects of these “real” characters and I saw these shows become more prevalent and popular. I have witnessed an increase in a decreasing amount of creativity; lacking imagination, just a repetition of the things that the students have seen or “experienced” in media of some sort.
Does any of this mean that there are not modern references of art that are reflections of society and what is currently happening in the world? No, it absolutely does not mean that there are not plenty of examples of modern art which react and respond to the current events. Living in Berkshire County, there is Mass MOCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) which is filled with music, dance and art in many forms responding contemporary events. Furthermore, television shows like Saturday Night Live, and other late night “news” shows that satirize events and people who are in the public eye.
Perhaps because of how readily available media, on handheld devices, internet and plastered on nearly every wall, art (as such in the form of media) is just more prevalent than even 10 years ago. The available access to information may have shaped society. I cannot ignore artists (this includes authors, musicians, dancers and well, or any other form of entertainer including athletes) who stood up for what they felt was right and influenced the opinions and thoughts of society. However, I do not feel the actions of these entertainers was not impersonated by society in nearly that manner that it is now.
Is art still more a reflection of society or is society more a reflection of art?