In my opinion| Art does carry a message
In a recent interview with Cursor concerning the introduction of a rainbow crossing on the TU/e campus, Mr. Colenbrander was quoted saying: “The goal of art is not to communicate, it doesn’t serve as a vehicle to express a message of something else. [...] That doesn’t mean that art can’t have a content [sic], but that content is artistic first of all. So, no agitprop”. I would like to say a few words regarding this quote and the stance the Commission takes with it.
Claiming art does not – or ought not to – carry a message shows a misunderstanding or very narrow view of what art is. From cave paintings to Picasso’s Guernica, from Bach’s Passions to Dylan’s Hurricane, art has always carried a message, implicitly or explicitly. To disregard this is to disrespect the artists, who create not strictly for the purpose of aesthetics, but to push the boundary of the status quo, promote social reform and provoke thought in those experiencing their work.
The artists that adorn the walls of our university highlight the importance of the message in their art:
- “For all expressions of art, be they music, literature or visual arts, the primary goal is: to make a statement to the outside world; that is, a personal thought, an apt idea, an inner emotion made tangible for others to perceive” [M. C. Escher]
- “I believe that my art should serve involvement. Art must have importance. That is why I deal with topical social matters.” [Stijn Peeters]
Then, the use of the term agitprop. Originating from the conjunction of agitation and propaganda, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism describes it as “widely used as a catchall term to describe politically combative or oppositional art”. This implies that a rainbow crossing and the message it portrays are considered by the Commission to be politically combative or oppositional. This cannot be rhymed with both the ubiquitous presence of art containing diversity symbolism in Dutch society, and the stance of the TU/e itself regarding diversity and inclusion.
Art on our campus adds to the aesthetics, enriches our public space and humanises the built environment – think for example of the Herman Brood paintings at Helix adding some sorely needed sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll to the Chemical Engineering department. But public art plays a larger role than just looking nice. The message within the art activates our imagination, challenges our beliefs, and stimulates social interaction and awareness. To restrict ourselves to messageless art is to confine our campus to a meaningless space.
I urge the Commission to reconsider their stance, if not on the rainbow crossing, then at least on art as a whole.