The Power of Art is Not Always Comfortable, And That’s a Good Thing

040901 M law&safety-Cincinnati cops were placed out front of District 1. Melvin Grier Photo

Art has the power to transport us out of the day-to-day—to give us a break from reality. It can lift us up, make us happy, and entertain us.

Paradoxically, art is also a powerful conduit for facing harsh realities. It can help us engage in difficult dialogues and expand our thinking on issues that make us uncomfortable and don’t come with easy solutions. Art helps us connect with others while digging into complex and nuanced subjects.

Next week the Wexner Center for the Arts is hosting an event that will be digging into the topic of race relations in America as part of their Directors Dialogue program. They will be screening the documentary Cincinnati Goddamn, which captures the personal trauma and civic unrest that followed the deaths of 15 African-American men at the hands of the Cincinnati police from 1995 to 2001.

Race relations are certainly not a new issue for America, but recent events have been a brutal reminder that it is an issue that continues to need our collective attention. The Wexner Center for the Arts is, through this screening, providing an opportunity in Columbus to bring this conversation front and center in a space that nurtures thoughtful dialogue.

This is the power of expression through art. The creation of it provides a safe outlet for overwhelming emotions or the exploration of difficult questions. The experience of art can challenge our perceptions and assumptions; it can open up dialogue, and even provide a space where it feels safe to talk about a subject that is uncomfortable or socially taboo.

I have seen and heard artists address, through their chosen discipline, everything from race to gender identity and equality from sexual orientation to civil rights and social justice and each time I gain new insight. I am pulled out of my world view, and given a new lens to look through.

Unfortunately when it comes to complex subjects, what we often see through national, mainstream media is a narrative that is told in sound bites and overly simplified. This won’t do. If we want to honestly address important societal issues we need to embrace avenues of expression that are as equally complex and nuanced as our world.

— Tom Katzenmeyer Keep up with Tom’s adventures on Twitter: @tomkatzenmeyer