It's Just Art

Sometimes those of us who create for a living stop to question the value of what we are giving our lives to. Especially if we want to make the world a better place. Especially if I want to pour myself out for faith, hope and love. Especially when I encounter injustice. In the face of all this brokenness, isn’t there more we could do? 

But artist, keep making. It is more than ‘just art’. To make art is just.

Last night I was in a room of over a hundred, listening to heartwrenching stories of women who were sold and trafficked. Women for whom justice is, or was, a distant dream. I was listening because of Julie Rohr.

Julie began a project 10 months ago called “The Women”. The idea was simple enough. Sell photographic portraits to women for $50 each and give the money to organizations helping women escape sexual exploitation and trafficking. One might look at this and assume the portraits themselves to be the least important ingredient. The least someone could do in the face of a massive, global injustice. Wrong.

I was there last night because of those portraits. Because of my artist friends. Because the solidarity of these women, represented on four walls packed with photos, speaks of a great injustice to me. And I wanted to know more.

I was drawn in by the art. And once there, the art gave me a beautiful vision for how the world could be.

I heard stories, well told. Also an artform. The silent auction and raffle brought more art to the table. These artists were putting their gifts to work for justice.

Julie and her husband David in front of dozens of  The Women  on opening night.

Julie and her husband David in front of dozens of The Women on opening night.

Last Thursday night our Arts Putluck took on a decidedly just theme. Personal histories were shared. We spoke of Indigenous identity–something I know little about and will never experience first hand. We spoke of an illness I haven’t had. I was able to enter these worlds on Thursday. Not through conversation and explanation. Through the magic portal of art.

Even if the subject matter is not about justice – even if the artist is no crusader for truth and transformation – art plays a role in redeeming the world. 

Here are five ways that art in inherently just.

  • Art lends me the perspective of another human being. This leads to empathy and understanding. 
  • Art questions the status quo.
  • Art reveals the pain and poverty of our world.
  • Art gives a voice to the marginalized and voiceless.
  • Art shows me a beautiful vision of the world as it could be. On earth as it is in heaven.

When Stephen Berg takes me to Beaver Hills Park and lets me look on its inhabitants with eyes full of mercy, that is just art. When Marcie Rohr takes me around the spinning globe with beautiful, frenzied canvases, that is just art. When Karla Adolphe sings stories of grief, that is just art. When Julie Drew leads me beside still waters with paint and vivid colour, that is just art. When Wenda Salomons shines a light down the alleyways to find the beauty in the discarded and forgotten, that is just art.  

So the next time somebody belittles cultural production at the expense of ‘real’ social impact, remember that it’s just art.

It is just indeed.

The Women is on display at the Art Gallery of Alberta (in the basement gallery space) until March 22. Admission to this space is free. Donations can be made online here.



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