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December 13th 2023

Head Student Team Blog: Grace on Are The Arts relevant in a crisis?

On an impulsive outing to the Tate Modern, I came across a thought-provoking art installation, an immersive film focusing on whether art can be relevant in a crisis. I was immediately captivated and stayed to watch the ten-minute film twice. As a young woman with ambitions of going into the arts as a career, I felt acknowledged by this artwork, especially as the importance of art is undervalued in the world today.  

The achievements of the arts in every field are not talked about nearly enough as they should be. The arts fulfil and give us purpose, the arts give us hope, and the arts give us drive and passion. The impact of art on humans needs to be addressed, as it is so often forgotten. Hence the prompt for this Head Student blog: are the arts relevant in a crisis? 

As human beings, we have a natural desire for the aesthetics and the beauty in life. My personal favourite example of a moment in history when humans have taken their love for beauty to an extreme, is when purple dye had more value than gold. The murex sea snail was used to create a specific and rare purple dye that was known as Tyrian Purple. This Tyrian Purple was used as a symbol of high status for a thousand years. From the Phoenicians to the fall of the Roman Empire, an ounce of Tyrian Purple was worth considerably more than an ounce of gold. Something as simple as a dye prompted sailors to search the entire Mediterranean coastline in pursuit of the murex sea snail. Why is this? Humans love beauty and they love art. This demonstrates the extent to which humans will strive to obtain something that is purely aesthetically pleasing.  

Now the human importance of beauty and art has been established, what is the impact of art in a crisis? 

Aristotle emphasised the importance of the arts, specifically drama, in understanding the world. He believed that watching a piece of theatre could provide catharsis, purging or release of emotions, through the depiction of tragic events and experience of empathy with the characters. Theatre and film are critically vital and important in understanding the world, especially in a world that is so diverse and polarised. Watching a performance can radically change perspectives, alter lives and spark a movement. One specific example of this is ‘The Normal Heart’ by Larry Kramer that premiered in 1985. The play focuses on the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City and sheds light on the impact of the epidemic and the community’s fight for recognition, funding, and compassion. It addresses issues such as government inaction, discrimination, and the importance of activism. The play left a sizable impact on the audience, raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and helping to destigmatise the disease by encouraging conversations about safe practice, prevention, and compassion for those affected. ‘The Normal Heart’ became a catalyst for change inspiring individuals and organisations to act and support the affected community. 

Performance has the power to make a difference, both on a grand scale and in smaller communities. It can bring people together to address societal issues during a crisis, while also fostering creativity and personal growth. At a school level, this is evident in creative extracurricular activities - take the recent Christmas Carol Concert for example, which saw students of all ages practicing with each other for weeks to create something truly lovely. The unity that arises from such events is unlike anything else. It transcends barriers like Year Groups and different interests, creating a shared connection that unites everyone involved. While we may all not be in a common crisis, this time of year can be hard for many families - but the atmosphere after the Christmas Carol Concert is nothing but euphoric and can shift someone’s mood entirely. 

The Arts are undeniably relevant in a crisis. They provide a means of self-expression, foster connection, and community, and inspire hope. By embracing the arts we can create nurturing environments that support emotional well-being and resilience. 

Written by Grace, Head Student, Year 13 


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