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Art and films have power to change people’s perceptions

 In this week’s online poll, the Arab Times asked voters their opinion about the role of art in society and its power to influence change. A majority, 38 percent, of the voters said that art has the power to change people’s perceptions. Talking to respondents, the Arab Times found out that most of the people were referring to cinema when they say “Art.” Respondents who supported the idea that art can inspire changes in perception gave personal experiences of how certain films they saw had an impact on them. Most of the films that people cited as examples had to do with sensitive subjects such as homosexuality, mental illness, faith or sexually transmitted diseases.

One of the examples was a film about possession and the attempts by a priest to exorcise the affected girl. But when the girl dies, the priest is faced with charges of murder with the prosecution trying to frame him for denying the girl medical attention in the name of faith. The courtroom turns into a battleground where two ideologies clash. The respondent said that this film opened his eyes to the possibility of appreciating two contradictory ideas, and accepting both. Another respondent said that a film about the discrimination against AIDS patients touched a chord deep within her. “It changed the way I looked not only at AIDS patients, but also others who are ostracized from society for various reasons, for instance, prisoners.”

About 18 percent of the voters rejected the notion of art being a vehicle of any sort of change. They looked at it as a pastime of the rich. Respondents added that art is more about form and less about content. What message do you get from some of the costliest paintings in the world, they asked? “Like everything else in the world, art is highly commercialized and the only reason that art pieces sell for humongous prices is clever marketing. If there’s anything art can change, it is the bank balance of the artists and their agents.”

For 17 percent of the voters art only reflects change and does not create change by itself. They too had films to back their claims. An analysis of the trends in world cinema will show how path breaking films were always the outcome of some social upheavals that were already playing out. “Films did not bring about the clash between communism and Western democracies, rather it was the other way round. When there are conflicts in the society, films reflect them.

The portrayal of communists, Japanese and more recently Islamic terrorists by Hollywood clearly shows how politics influences art.” Drawing conclusions from this point of view, respondents said that it’s more likely that society changes art, than art changing society.” About 9 percent of the voters disagreed with this view. They cited war movies and how these movies made people support many of America’s wars as examples of the power of art to change perceptions. Some even see photo journalism as art.

The picture of a small girl during the Vietnam War, running naked after a napalm bomb seared off her clothes, turned public opinion so sharply against the war that it brought an end to the war. “Doesn’t that show art can make real changes in society?” Other minority opinions ranged between art being the exclusive preserve of the insular elite and art as a conduit for vulgarity to enter the society.


By: Valiya S Sajjad Arab Times Staff

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