Visual Arts: Their Ability to Become a Universal Language Visual Arts: the channel of education, through which all men grow and advance in the world, no matter their provenance. Why hesitate to admit the true nature of what art really means? For many it means a life. It is important for everyone to recognize and realize that visual arts have, indeed, become an important part of everyone’s everyday lives, and are widely recognized to the extent that they have the ability to be understood as a universal language. You may think, at first, that from country to country and culture to culture, there is no possibility that everyone could understand each other. However, could visual art be the key to unlock common understanding? Take a moment to consider the amount of subconscious analyzing and deciphering of art you do every day. Without realizing it, you comprehend what that little symbol on the back of a bleach container means; what the red hexagon on the street corner demands; what the yellow line down the center of the road means. Art is a universal language. It is the things that seem insignificant, that seem to mean virtually nothing to us throughout life, that hold the most meaning and have the ability to bring diverse countries and cultures together. As Annenberg Foundation stated: “The human impulse to create art is universal… As cultural documents, works of art provide important insights into past and existing cultures, helping us to understand how others have lived and what they valued.” This essentially sums up the significance of art throughout the globe in the past, continuing into today’s society, and its ability to become an accepted universal language. You may be thinking to yourself, what are visual arts anyway? And why is it so important to recognize their significance? Visual arts are, as defined by Random House Inc. Dictionary, “the arts created primarily for visual perception, as drawing, graphics, painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts.” You see from this definition that the arts are for visual perception, hence their name: visual arts, but also highlighting the importance of the fact that no reading/listening comprehension is necessarily required. This defies theories that differences in language, culture and social status can create barriers between one human race and another. Take a moment to think about the world around you. Then you will see that there is little that does not involve “drawing, graphics, painting, sculpture…and decoration.” The reason it is so important to recognize the significance of visual arts is because of its pervasive use. There is not a place, not a culture, not a region, not a city or nation that could have been built, developed and survived without the utilization and aid of visual arts. Visual arts are an extremely vital part of world history and have played a huge part in the development of our diverse cultures. As Annenberg Foundation put it, “Art has been has been a way to communicate beliefs and express ideas about the human experience throughout all stages of civilization and in every region of the world.” This indicates that without the availability and access to visuals as a means of communication, our world would not have developed and progressed the way it has. Art has the ability to serve as historical records, along with written text, and assists in providing historians with graphic details of life in those times, being reinstated by Annenberg Foundation: “Art has been a medium through which people have not only documented, but also shaped history—both past and future.” For example, as John Hanhardt from the Smithsoni, an American Museum, stated, “From that bison on a cave to the great history of Renaissance painting, photography, the cinema—art is about shaping memories of history and the past.” It not only gives us a distinct impression of what art meant to ancient civilizations, but it leads us deep into the very heart of their societies: “The arts reflect the society that creates them.” (ushistory.org) Focusing directly on one of these great and ancient civilizations themselves is a more appropriate way to fully portray the meaning and significance of art throughout history and today. Using the Ancient civilization of Greece and the well-known Golden Age as an example, the significance of art is brought to a whole new level. As Matt Barrett stated on The Golden Age of Greece, “The Golden Age of Greece… has given us the great monuments, art, philosophy, and architecture … which are the building blocks of our own civilization.” Being the building block of something signifies that the structure could not stand without it; that the whole system above the block is dependent on what is below, and this is exactly what historical art has done for our current-day civilizations. Visual arts act as a common link between nations, but also societies themselves. “The arts reflect the society that creates them,” stated a source from ushistory.org, and “Nowhere is this truer than in the case of the ancient Greeks.” The ancient Greeks took tremendous pride in their works of art and architecture and displayed them throughout their cities. One of the most recognizable icons, popular tourist attraction and perhaps finest works of visual art (architecture) in the world is the Parthenon in Greece which sits atop the Acropolis (a high point of land that was set aside for an important part of that city-state). The Parthenon was actually a replacement of an existing temple and was built, made completely of ivory and gold and sculptured by Phidias, a renowned sculptor, in attempt to “show the wealth and exuberance of Athenian power.” (University) The mere fact that it is still existent (although decrepit) and recognized globally is testament to the significance of visual arts. Then there are the many fine pieces of Greek artwork (including monuments, vases, vessels and pottery) that were viewed as highly important and respectable, their being to honour the gods of Greece. The idea that art was used as a form of worship shows how characteristic it was in the formation of their culture and being, meaning that art is not something irrelevant if it can have this sort of place in such a prominent civilization. As we know many of the fine works of Greek artists have been reproduced and copied by what today’s audiences would class as the finest artists to ever have lived. For example, Michelangelo, the famous Italian artist, who is known for his intricate works of art including the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the St. Peter’s dome in Pieta. This, again, shows the way art has been carried through the centuries up until the present day, and is expected to be carried the same way into the future. It is amazing to think of the huge impact Greek art has had on the world because, as University Press Inc. stated, “Alexander the Great's conquest gave birth to Greco-Buddhist art, which has even had an influence as far as Japan all of which stem from ancient Greek art,” showing that the Greek influence has reached the farthest corners of the earth, and in a way that nothing other than art could have. Visual arts have played, and still are playing a massive role in today’s society, and in fact, may be playing a larger role than we think or realize. This is because we take our increasingly technological world for granted and fail to recognize the truly developing use of visuals as a universal system of communication. Without this worldwide system of communication it would be virtually impossible to carry out business and daily life as we now do. Take the swiftly developing system of brands as an example. Everyone knows what a Blackberry (phone) symbol looks like; it is common knowledge that the silver apple with a bite out of it represents ‘Apple’ PC company; and the VW symbol is a brand of car known as Volkswagen; and everyone knows that the Canadian flag has a red maple leaf set on white between two stripes of red; and recognizes the USA’s red, white and blue. Statistics from The NextWeb support that Apple sold 61.1 million iPhones in the 3 months of Q2 in 2015, and describe this trend as “whopping.” This evidence proves that not only is Apple recognized world-wide, but it is becoming increasingly more-so. You see, these are a few of the common examples that are seen in every area of the world, no matter the place, and are recognized and accepted as part of daily life. Comparing the definition of art (“a medium through which we express our emotions, intellect and ideas”) (Buzzle.com) with the definition of language (“any system of formalized symbols, signs, sounds, gestures, or the like used or conceived as a means of communicating thought, emotion, etc.”) (Random House, Inc.) , you can see that art and language have a very similar purpose: to communicate a thought, emotion, or idea. that would allow them to function in similar ways and that the definition of art holds the vital features to becoming a language—a universal language. Over time, huge advancements in media technology have been made (and are still being made) which allow people globally to communicate in a more advanced way. Take digital media as an example: virtually everyone owns their own cell phone and can connect with people from across the world, ‘emoticons’ being a prime example of a visual art-based platform. People across the globe send the small *dancingface* as a way to express their excitement about something, or the *cryingface* to show their unhappiness rather than try to put it in words. If art/pictures can say or express our emotions, intellect and ideas, unlike words themselves, then why can it not be classified as a language? Why can something that has so much power and dominance in a society be ignored? Emotion is an important part of life that many people have trouble understanding and it is probably one of the most important things to communicate. As stated by World Book Encyclopedia “works of art differ widely in how they combine formal features with meaning” it goes on to list a few examples pieces of art that can affect us or satisfy us summing up the statement by saying that they do more than convey religious and moral beliefs and attitudes “they convey these meanings through delightful design and pleasurable patterns of perception.” You see, meaning can be portrayed. Not simply a pretty picture to look at and enjoy, but there is meaning—depth—woven into the detail. Seeing something gives people the ability to connect with each other in a way that words do not always allow—especially with spoken language barriers. Digital forms of art are also being created, copied and stored giving world-wide access to famous pieces of art that would have previously had minimal popularity. Through this form of collaboration, even current-day nations can be brought together because of the insight that art gives into other cultures and ways-of-life. A statement of Karen Kiefer from The Importance of Art Today, said, “It is our premise that empowering each and every individual to actualize their creativity is the best bet we have for developing new and healthy ways of being in this era of global citizenship.” (Kiefer) Essentially art is creativity; and creativity creates a strong and healthy interaction between citizens of today’s society, meaning the art we create can become a means of global communication. In schools today, students are taught that it is through visual arts you can express yourself the best. Students are encouraged to participate in art-related activities in order to improve their communication skills and interaction with others. Although people learn differently, seeing something, or visualizing a concept, is the most accurate and effective way that a person can connect information with the world around them. It has been proven that “the arts can bring every subject to life and turn abstractions into concrete reality. Learning through the arts often results in greater academic achievement and higher test scores.” (Beirut) This then links together with the ability to integrate with society globally and highlights the importance of art as the middle-man. Without this ‘middle-man’, it would have been impossible to connect the past to the present and the present to the future. The arts have brought so much into our lives, leading us down a path that would never have been taken otherwise. Without the cultural influence and effect on our society that visual arts had and are still having, our nations would be connected through only a few superficial words. It is through the arts that the past lives on in our nations today that these nations continue to develop and expand, that “has, both directly and indirectly, influenced business, politics, industry, and international affairs. It has shaped cultures, nations, and even world history.” (Bond) Try to imagine a world without art in the past. Would the magnificent ancient civilizations have been famous? Would tourists today still flock to the Colosseum to experience its seeming importance? Then think about the present day. Art is not only the main form of communication that business have with the wider world, but it is the platform on which businesses communicate with each other. It is how they grow, expand and develop our countries, our societies and our cultures. Art not only advances technology, but art is technology. Everyone wants to experience the new “look” of a phone or computer or whatever the latest advancement in technology has been. “Exploring the visual and performing arts with students encourages, in fact demands cooperation, compromise and commitment - all skills necessary for any work environment” stated The American Community School at Beirut, signifying its importance in today’s society and its ability to encourage peoples’ collaboration. So, it has become apparent through this argument that everyone, in every culture and from every corner of the earth is already bound, unknowingly, by the visual arts, bringing them together onto a common ground and universal language. In conclusion, this has never been said better or more truthfully than by T.W. Adorno from Critical Theory and the Arts who suggested that “Art knows us better than we know ourselves.” (Adorno)
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