What’s the Role of Art?

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What’s the Role of Art?

This post is a little window in to some of the things I’ve been thinking about since being in NYC for a month now:
New York is not an easy city.  For oh so many reasons.  Being an artist in New York is not easy, but I realized the other day on the subway that being an artist is in many ways a privilege, and I also can’t help but wonder if art is really necessary?  What am I doing to make the world a better place by dancing?
Here’s what spurred this:
A woman was begging for money on the subway.  Unfortunately nothing out of the ordinary in NY. Another woman dressed in kitchen attire handed her a wad of money–not a dollar folded up, but probably several.  The woman begging made her way to my end of the train car, and slouched down and crumpled up with her back against the pole in the middle of the car and began to sob.  At first I thought it might just be an act to get people to giver her money, but she was really weeping.  A man across from me looked at her with deep concern.  I wondered if he had heard her shpeal at the other end of the car since his headphones were in. The woman who handed the wad of money minutes earlier came over and asked if she was looking for work, to which she of course responded yes.  She told her to go to the restaurant where she worked.  She wrote down directions and the name of the manager on her paper bag.  It was like this little glimmer of hope for her.  One of those rarities when someone in New York says something when they don’t have to.
All and all it all made me wonder what am I doing with my life.  I want to help people; I want to make the world a better place.  Does dancing flamenco do that at all?
I asked Andrés Marín what he thought the role of art in society was when I interviewed him earlier this year.  Here is some of his response:
“El arte es fundamental en la sociedad.  Sin arte estaríamos lleno de solamente de políticos inservibles, de catetos…el problema es cuando se hace arte cómodo, anestesiado para un público fácil para el trasfondo; el trasfondo del arte es economía .  Allí no esta el arte; el arte esta en la búsqueda absoluta de tu propio equivocación, y tu propio inseguridad para crecer. El arte estar para crecer. Y para hacer crecer a la sociedad, para quejarte, para cuando la sociedad esta cómoda tu manifiestas una cosa fea para incomodar, que todo no es bella en la vida.” 
Translation: “Art is fundamental in society.  Without art we would be full only of useless politicians, red necks…the problem is when convenient, anesthetized art is made for an easy public for the undercurrent—the undercurrent in art is the economy.  That’s not where art is; art is in the absolute search of your own misunderstanding, your own insecurity in order to grow.  Art exists to grow.  And to make society grow, to complain, for when society gets comfortable and you manifest something ugly to make society uncomfortable, that not everything in life is beautiful…”
Andrés Marín, whom I studied with in Sevilla
I think the arts allow us to connect on a deep level with strangers when we otherwise could not, and it allows for expression of our innermost selves.  I think for that most human part of us, art is necessary and should not be a luxury.  Art gives us a way to criticize society and to think critically about ourselves.  I think dance opens a vocabulary of expression, allowing the dancer not only to express herself but to also discover more about herself. 
I think art makes us recognize our connection to the world, and as Aristotle put it, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”  To me, that is the very essence of being human…
Sometimes it seems silly or absurd to spend my days dancing (and sometimes it’s such an uphill battle I wonder if it can really work), but I truly believe art (and particularly dance in this case) is important part of society, even if on a day-to-day basis I can’t see a difference.  I can’t directly help the woman on the subway, but hopefully working in the world of the arts does make a difference in the very fabric of society. 
All and all, I am proud to call myself an artist, even though I have moments when it feels frivolous or frustrating. 


About the Author:

Alice Blumenfeld is a flamenco dancer, choreographer, writer, and educator. She holds a MFA in dance from Hollins University and currently directs Abrepaso Flamenco.

One Comment

  1. Paco Benitez Santos October 4, 2013 at 6:43 am - Reply

    All you reflect about is true..For me art is about BEAUTY, the world needs to comtemplate that beaty that reconcile the human being with himself. And beauty in a deep sense implyes ethic and values..
    In that way ART has an important role communicating the essence of human nature!

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