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The painter, sculptor and art professor Jörg Immendorff (Bleckede, 1945 – Dusseldorf, 2007) considered that art should be like a daily meal. He saw it as staple food for the mind and, as such, the role of the artist is to culturally nourish society with substance (their artwork) which banishes hunger. This German neo-expressionist artist was convinced that artistic activity could change reality. Immendorff used art as a tool to cope with the division of Germany and a means to reunify his country.
The visit to the past exhibition Jörg Immendorff. The Task of the Painter at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS) invites us to meditate on the artist and their role in society.
Is art a tool to change reality?
Art provides a mirror for contemporary society, sometimes raising awareness on urgent issues or defending change. Whether through traditional or more modern media, figuration or abstraction, militancy or independent observation, artworks highlight aspects of the social reality in which they were created. They look to generate a reaction and transmit a more or less explicit message to their audiences.
Artists are a vehicle to express universal emotion. Art is a powerful means of expression to communicate a political message or invite us to find our own way through different layers of meaning. Its rich and universal language can be understood by all, given that art appeals to our senses, emotions and ability to think (although at times not everything is decipherable, precisely because of the diversity of possible meanings). Artistic expression can change reality in the sense that artworks are able to show us where we have come from, speak of what’s happening in the present and give us the opportunity to act and create a new future.
Artists work to illuminate the outer reaches, diverting or focussing our attention and inciting introspection or thought. In doing so, they invade and upturn convention, even managing to challenge inertia, provoking critical thinking and social change.
What’s the role of the artist in society?
To visit a museum and view artworks from bygone centuries is to discover something about who we are. About where we come from. That’s the key. Art is a reflection of what humans have considered and defined as “culture”: its testimony serves as inspiration, as a means to preserve the material and immaterial heritage of a people and pass it on from one generation to the next.
Artists are those able to investigate, unearth and bring to fruition the potential and reminiscence of being (“to hunt the being,” according to Jorge Oteiza), by exploring human cosmogony. Their contribution helps to distinguish new or innovative routes in the world. They give shape to the material and the immaterial: the distant past, the depths of common sentiment, spiritual powers, personal feelings… “The role of art, among others, is to expand experience so as to clarify or reveal that which remains hidden to the everyday gaze,” says Eugenio Trías.
At a time when humankind faces huge challenges, some of which threaten our very survival, art helps to go beyond our lived experience, to transform it into a seed for future evolution. Art is the ‘demiurgic’ power which humans possess to create that which doesn’t yet exist.
Photography: Oscar Rivilla
Translation: Rebekah Jane Rhodes
Music: Dr Symptosizer
Art direction: Oscar Rivilla&Carolina Verd
Video Postproduction: Lury Lech
Main Picture: black dress by Antonio García
Picture 2: black dress by Ernesto Naranjo
Picture 3, 4 y 5: black dress by Gucci