Art has been with us for a very long time. The earliest known artistic artifacts date back around 40,000 years, though there is some evidence that there may have been artistic activity by humans as far back as 500,000 years ago. Art is an essential element of our shared humanity.
Symbols are powerful things. Visual symbols often evoke powerful memories and emotions. It can even be argued that eliciting emotional responses is a primary purpose of art. Yet our appreciation of art is deeply personal.
It’s a small wonder that governments use art for their purposes – to elicit fond remembrances of a bygone era, to stir our patriotism, or to create an emotional attachment to government itself.
Stories have likely been with us since even before there was art, though they didn’t begin to be written down until around 3000 years ago. The old stories, told over and over again, generation after generation, were a way of conveying basic human truths through an ancient oral tradition.
Stories are powerful things. Imagery and metaphor are powerful ways to connect with people and with our deepest thoughts and desires. Story telling is in our bones.
It’s a small wonder that governments use history for their purposes. It doesn’t matter whether they’re duly-elected or dictatorial, governments will always have an interest in telling their version of history. They can’t help it.
Governments, starting with the earliest kings, have told history the way they want it told and used art to promote the emotional responses that they wished. By now we should treat this as a fact of life. Consider an alternative view …
Living, breathing, and hotly-debated history should be free from government influence.
Living, breathing, and awe-inspiring art should be free from government influence.
Art and history are both far too important to be in the hands of government. Maybe we can agree on that. Let those who wish to tell history their way, do so. Let those who wish to display their cherished art, do so. If government stays out of the way, maybe we can have that truly living, breathing, and debated history, as well as that truly living, breathing, and awe-inspiring art.
One can only dream.