Art is all around us. Take a look at where you are now and you’re sure to see something; whether it’s a beautiful piece of architecture, an illustration in a magazine or up on a billboard, or something unique created by nature. Unfortunately, conflict, from the mundane to the life-transforming, also invades our daily lives, as well as making an impact on the community and world around us. So, we have a choice. We can look inwards and ignore what’s going on out there, or we can open our eyes and take a good look at the beauty and ugliness and try to make sense of them both. Sometimes the two even come together, as events inspired by conflict can produce powerful and communicative art through the use of a pen, paintbrush, camera, or even the medium of dance.
Arts as therapy
A relatively new example of how art and conflict come together is through the use of arts-based therapies to heal people suffering from conflict and psychological-based traumas. People who are lost within themselves can often be released through the creative freedom offered by the arts. Therapists can then access thought processes and underlying emotions they may not otherwise unlock and begin the healing process. Music and painting are two areas that can help young people and adults in this way, but the emerging area of dance therapy is also one that, according to Nashville-based dance therapist, Judy Given, has produced life-changing results. This makes sense when you think about how expressive and freeing dance can be. It’s not hard to imagine how it could help some people deal with even serious issues affecting their lives, such as drug abuse. Often thought of as an individual addiction, drug abuse is actually an immense source of conflict that hurts families, communities and society; but some drug programs in Tennessee and elsewhere are utilizing the arts to tackle the problem. As well as the stress-releasing effects, when used to complement more traditional treatment, dance and other arts-based therapies encourage communication, which is often the first step to healing and resolving conflict.
The unique qualities of dance
Art can help its creator say something about themselves, or the world, but it can also educate its audience. For this to resonate and bring about change, however, it has to be truthful and authentic. We have all been moved in some way by a genuine, heartfelt creative work: maybe was a song lyric, a piece of theater, or a scene in a film that triggered a warm memory, an intense feeling or a vivid experience. This is the job of a great artist to take experiences personal to them and create something something relatable. There is also a degree of bravery in taking events mired in conflict and using art to expose and educate. In this way, dance is uniquely placed. Unlike some other art forms, it is 100% visual; meaning there are no language barriers to break down or cultural mores to overcome. All of a sudden, that personal experience is relatable to anyone, anywhere in the world. Take a moment to think of how powerful a concept that really is. When viewed in this way, dance can be understood as a vehicle by which any number of stories can be told and universally understood.
It is true that conflict and dance may seem, on the surface at least, an odd marriage, but you only need to read the personal story of EXIT12’s Roman Baca, or watch a production to understand the power of this union. Meshing the harsh ugliness of war and the ethereal beauty of dance can make a provocative statement. But what really drives the company is a dedication and commitment to spreading a message of peace and educating as many people as possible on the lasting impact of war and violent conflict.
Arts and conflict resolution
We’ve seen how art can be used by both the creator and audience to understand conflict and how it can help heal. Taking this a step further, art also has a role to play in conflict resolution. To bring things full circle, art is all around us, and when we see something that moves us or makes us react with laughter or revulsion, we’re likely to talk about it; with family and friends, and nowadays, maybe even online. This is especially true when we make a point of seeking out arts. It’s true that first and foremost we often want to be entertained, but we can also be educated and inspired. We can then spread that message to a wider audience and, with enough support, even start to bring about social change.