Why the Arts Matter, Now More Than Ever

Ryan Gosling as Seb in La La Land. Seb is seated at a piano with a spotlight illuminating his silhouette in the darkness.
La La Land (2016). Lionsgate.

Growing up, there was one thing among the many lessons I was taught both at home and at school, that stood out to me, but not because it was good, or necessary or even bad: the arts are not that important, and that was that. When I’d be asked what I wanted to be when I came of age; when it was time for me to pick classes in order to qualify for university; hell, even the words I was taught in our school’s mandatory French lectures, the arts were never given much preference. For the longest time I used to tell people I wanted to be an orthodontist, because they made lots of money and the word was fancy. When I picked classes and, later on, the field I wanted to study, I debated between biology and chemistry, health sciences or neurosciences. And, if I tried hard enough, I could probably tell you what policeman, teacher or doctor was in French, but not painter, musician, writer or dancer. I’ve always loved the arts, but the world told me again and again that it could only be a pastime, a weekend frivolity at best. Never a passion or a career. The arts could never nurture my soul as well as I needed it. It could never help people or change the way we looked at things like science, math and technology could. 

Now, the world has entered an unprecedented year with the spread of the Coronavirus. These days, I’ve found myself to be feeling very lonely, very sad and just stuck in a place that makes me feel like I’ve got nowhere to go. When those feelings hit (and they hit me more than I’d like to admit), I’ve automatically gravitated and fallen back on the arts as an escape, as a sheltered refuge I can lose myself in and experience the happiness that these last few months have taken away. We need the arts perhaps more than ever before. I realise that may seem like a bold statement to some but it’s the truth, I believe it with my full heart. 

Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl. Gerda is lying on her front on a bed, holding a paintbrush. In front of her is a pencil sketch of Lili Elbe and a set of paints sitting on a wooden board.
The Danish Girl (2015). Universal Pictures.

Without music, fashion, paintings and sculptures, without literature and film, architecture or photography, we cannot transcend the barriers of politics, language, geography, anger or disease that seek to keep us apart – to keep us ignorant. It’s only been in the last few years or so that I have realised how wrong people have been and how much I’ve been in denial. That’s why it breaks my heart when I see or hear about bookstores and cinemas having to close because of the dead economy that the virus has created. Businesses such as these aren’t considered ‘essential’, so their doors remained shut and their windows boarded up. I do understand that many of these things bring crowds together for entertainment sake and that’s not the smartest thing to do right now. However, that is also not an excuse to cut them out of our daily lives. 

Movies have been suspended, concerts have been cancelled, and Broadway shows won’t be resumed until 2021 at the earliest. It’s disheartening. Everyone I’ve talked to, both local and abroad, something artistic is what most, if not all, of them look forward to. Regardless of its form, the arts have been, and always will be a source of hope and a sanctuary that aids in healing. For me, it’s books, mainly. I’ve been able to revisit old worlds and journey into new ones. I’ve been able to keep the dark thoughts at bay by surrendering my own mind and stepping into someone else’s. I’ve read more books this year because of quarantine than I ever have. And even though I’ve lost my job, missed out on properly graduating from another degree I’m really proud of (it’s English, I know, a shocker) and I wake up most days feeling hollow and useless, the fact I’m able to pick up a book, run my hands along its spine, breath in the sweet-mustiness from its pages and just drift away somewhere beyond all these problems, is something I’m deeply thankful for.

Saoirse Ronan as Jo March in Little Women (2020). Jo is sitting on a couch with her knees drawn up to her chest, reading some of the manuscript pages of her book.
Little Women (2019). Sony Pictures.

Science may very well be what rids us of the virus, but it is artists who will guide us through the worst of days and it is artists who will pick up the pieces that make up the backbone of humanity – love, appreciation, kindness, the power of dreaming, collaboration, social justice – and see to it that we rebuild. As much as I wish I could stop these theatres and shops from closing, as much as I wish I could fix things, I know I can’t. I can’t do it all. The arts aren’t always the solution, I know that, but I don’t believe they should ever be ignored. Innovation and progress are rooted in art and history. They help us remember, help us accept, help us speak out and forgive. 

Art is what makes life beautiful and worth living. At has saved me from myself and I don’t think there’s a force more benevolent than that. Art stems from people with big hearts and even bigger imaginations. Art can make a difference if we let it. 

To all those people I’ve met growing up, to all the teachers who downplayed its importance, to all my friends and family members who look down on me because my education and my aspirations are grounded in the ‘unconventional’, all I (and Alan Turing) have to say is: 

“Sometimes it’s the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

The Imitation Game (2014)

And sometimes, it is the work they do, whether it be with a pen, a paintbrush, a sewing needle or a piano key. 

by Kacy Hogg 

Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favorite films include the Harry Potter series, CinderellaCaptain America: The Winter SoldierThe Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95

1 reply »

  1. Thank you for championing the arts because I have never given up on its predominance even if the world told me otherwise. Today as a published writer, I know how multiple forms of expressions and thoughts I am exposed to even more than before. So thank you for being steadfast and engaging with the beautiful truth of sticking to one’s beliefs.

    Like

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