25 May 2020

Understanding humanity through the arts

In shifting times, now more than ever, art and culture are playing a fundamental role when it comes to understanding the world we live in. It gives us tools for pondering and questioning our role as individuals and also as the constituent parts of a collective.  

To go a little deeper into this matter, we spoke to three artists, all ”la Caixa” fellows, to learn a bit more about how they are experiencing art, what art means for them and why they think it is so important for us as human beings.

José Francisco Martínez Antón holds a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) and is principal tuba in the Spanish National Orchestra and the Santa Cecilia de Chelva Music Society. His career has led him to play in orchestras around the world and to study in Sweden and the United States where, thanks to a fellowship from the ”la Caixa” Foundation, he was able to continue with his doctoral studies at Boston University from 2014 to 2016. “Art is important because it can touch anyone’s heart. We could say that it nourishes our inner selves and it gives the intrinsic energy and motivation that we need to take on life,” he said. “When I think about what the word ‘art’ means, happiness, joy, well-being, calm and learning come to mind.”

Credit: perfectpixel® - Pablo “Teco” Salto-Weis

Gabriela Bettini is a Spanish visual artist, originally from Argentina, who completed an MA in Fine Art from the University of East London from 2003 to 2004, thanks to a fellowship from the ”la Caixa” Foundation. She sees art as a critical tool. “It can call into question political, social or emotional elements in our lives, mobilise us, awaken our emotions and generate change,” she said. “It helps us to identify with other people and put ourselves in their shoes.” 

Credit: Bruno Leitao

Another expert in putting himself into other people’s shoes is Víctor Alonso-Berbel, a filmmaker and scriptwriter who was also granted a fellowship from the ”la Caixa” Foundation to do an MFA in Film Production in 2015 at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and who is also currently directing a fictional series at Mediapro. “Writing and directing films lets me live lives other than my own: one of the things I most enjoy about my daily life is flitting in and out of lives that aren't mine and living experiences I'd never have through the fictional characters I’m working with.” 

Credit: Víctor Alonso-Berbel

Martínez Antón reflects on how art also has an impact on human beings as a collective. “History has shown how the arts affect society. As a musician, I can also influence people since music can touch their hearts. The tuba gives me the chance to have a positive impact on the audience,” he told us. “Among other things, bearing in mind the pace at which a large part of the global population moves, I want to get across sensations of calm and well-being so that the audience can start to appreciate the present moment.” 

Bettini puts emphasis on art as a medium for viewing and engaging with reality. “I start from the history of painting to see how this medium has been put to use to promote ideas upon which hegemonic though in the North Atlantic has been constructed. Landscape as a genre of painting reached Europe from the “travelling artists” who depicted the newly conquered territories, far-flung lands, colonised spaces. This helped me to reflect on the processes of uprooting, deforestation and modification of natural spaces in the global south and the impact this has had on present-day ecosystems.  In this combination of past and present temporalities, the progressive erasure of everything that does not fit into the model, all that are left are lacunae, memory and space to bear witness. I work through all of this in my painting.”

Chuquicamata, 2019. Oil on canvas. 200x300cm
Credit: Gabriela Bettini

“Art is one of the only spaces that brings up new questions: it draws us into collective experience and reflection, as well as introspection,” said Alonso-Berbel. “The cinema that really interest me is both a window and a mirror: a window that transports us into other realities, since films always need to speak to us about something new, and at the same time, they are a mirror in which we can see the reflection of our doubts, our desires, our growth. This balance between the familiar and the other is where empathy emerges, which is one of the most powerful narrative and artistic devices and a true weapon for social transformation.

The three artists agree on the fact that a world without art would be a gloomy and unliveable place. “A world without art is a world without humans, since art is the very essence of humanity,” said Alonso-Berbel. Bettini pointed out that there are already many places where art is not appreciated or given space: “People choose other activities as a way of passing the time, connected with consumption, which generate a lack of both pleasure and critical viewpoints. In my opinion, these are dystopian spaces.” Martínez Antón describes a world without art in simple and precise terms: “I imagine it as a silent, sad, pessimistic, gloomy and dull space without light.”