Can art save the world?

Probably not, but it is a reminder of all that is possible.

The environment is our theme for the cover story this time. One of Sri Lanka’s best known artists, Senaka Senanayake, draws attention to the island nation’s rapidly depleting rainforests by drawing brightly hued canvases of the country’s flora and fauna. He feels art has an awesome power to bring people together in a rousing affirmation of earthly existence. As Nietzsche writes in Birth of Tragedy, regardless of how deep our despair, art seduces us to life. It is the powerful physical and cultural manifestation of emotion. It is an expression of the part of us that wants to “save the world”, that part of us that can exist as we should, in harmony with our habitat, rather than at odds with it. It connects with our emotional and spiritual energy, the part of us that builds true connections and deeper empathy with one another. Art speaks to us universally. With narrative, it is one of the oldest, universal cultural expressions. It can transcend politics, gender, economies, cultural differences, and technologies, revealing insights unattainable by reason or rationality. It can bring the intangible within grasp, give substance to the invisible and visionary perspectives for a cataclysmic world or a compelling utopia. Solzhenitsyn writes: “The task of the artist is to sense more keenly than others, the harmony of the world, the beauty and outrage of what man has done to it, and poignantly, let people know.” Great art makes us think and even greater art makes us act. It teaches us things that we weren’t able to see on our own and gives us unique perspective. This isn’t really about what exactly will save the world, but I can’t think of anything beyond the concept of Art that would lead us to anything different than where we are now. A piece of art that makes me feel the plight of the poor or helps me relate to them may change my mind. If we even have the ability to save ourselves from our own fate, art can at least show us the ledge. Can art really save the world? In the short term, the answer is probably still no, but it is a reminder of all that is possible. It can remind us that it’s possible to save the world. Art can shock us – spur us – into action. It’s important for audiences to see that it’s not too late – or people won’t see the point in doing anything. As we struggle through the clumsy transition to a sustainable future global community, we can make universal connections through art to create the essential paradigm shift that will bring unity to global fragmentation. From this position, perhaps humankind can save itself.

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