Promoting Peace Through Art

Guernica, 1937 by Pablo Picasso.

By Sally Writes

Around 10.2 million people visited the Louvre in 2018, which is a powerful testimony to the effects that art can have on human beings. Art does so much more than satisfy our inner aesthete. It can be a way of changing the way we perceive others and the world around us. Therefore, it is a magnificent way of promoting something the world needs more of: peace.

How Can Art Help End Fighting And War?

A 2017 study published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience reviewed numerous studies that point to the sociological value of art. Researchers noted that, in addition to affecting moods and attention, contemplating art also promoted better social knowledge and self-understanding. Art, they found, can help develop empathy, and allow viewers to take a new perspective and to understand others better. These qualities are crucial pillars of peace, which begins when we understand the effects that our own actions have on others.

Can Creating Art Have The Same Effect?

The Dada movement, founded in Switzerland in the early 20th century by artists from a plethora of countries, including war-torn countries, shows the extent to which creativity can be used to both advocate for peace and overcome the devastating effects of war. Dada artists often relied on photography collages to express their dissatisfaction with government regimes that pushed unwilling victims into war. Without a doubt, their art helped them deal with their inner turmoil. There is a reason why, today, art creation is used as therapy with many groups – including refugees, war victims, veterans, and war survivors with PTSD. The value of art therapy goes way beyond the perceived aesthetics of the works themselves. Even those who have never created art before can learn to draw simple human shapes, symbols of peace, and even abstract work that can serve as a basis for self-discovery, expression of emotion, and a basis for discussion of events and feelings that are sometimes too difficult to express through words.

How Can Art Encourage Viewers To Make Peace A Greater Priority?

In addition to fostering empathy, specific exhibitions and movements have shown the extent to which art can promote peace. As noted by Dr. Carol Rank, lecturer at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University, many exhibitions throughout history have focused on the horror and destruction caused by war. Many artists (think Picasso in Guernica or Goya in his anti-war prints) used powerful imagery to reveal the way war destroyed lives – both of those who perished and those left behind. Fascinatingly, notes Rank, some artists (Kandinsky, Marc, Macke) created apocalyptic pieces that warned about upcoming wars. This is arguably one of the most powerful ways in which art can be used to promote peace – by warning society of what they can expect if they do not put a stop to those who make decisions on engaging in or desisting from war.

Throughout history, the world’s most influential artists – including Picasso, Dali, and Rubens, showed the harrowing effects of war in their art. Far from simply giving life to past battles, many used art as a premonition of upcoming conflict and as a call to human beings to fight for peace. On an individual basis, there are many ways that professional and amateur artists alike can do the same. By taking part in exhibitions, including art in peace-centered events, and discussing iconic war/peace-centered works in educational institutions, human beings can hone their empathy and find the inspiration they need to take a stance against those whose decisions have devastating consequences for so many lives.

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