The Power of Art

Art has always had power: for the viewer art has the power to show them beauty; for the artist art has the power to communicate feelings and concepts that words cannot touch; and for the patron, art demonstrates your influence and resources. Art has long been used by governments to cement relationships, and continue the work of official diplomacy after the meetings are over. A gift of art between nations can be a potent symbol of cooperation.

Today we’re taking a look at how governments and countries use art as a part of their ‘soft power’, and the good it’s done the world in troubled times!

The Russian Art Establishment

One of the most successful and important modern artists working in the world today, Zurab Tsereteli’s output has also been a key part of the way Russia has related to the wider world since it was the centre of the USSR.

Zurab Tsereteli specialises in large scale statuary, sometimes with strongly political themes. His preeminent position has lead to him being both the official and unofficial father of the arts in Russia: he’s the president of the Russian Academy of Arts which means he’s the ultimate authority in charge of developing younger artists, as well as being the ‘face’ of art in Russia domestically and abroad.

His pieces have been significant gifts presented either personally or by and on behalf of the Russian government to countries around the world. Two notable pieces are ‘Break the Wall of Distrust’, which was gifted to the City of London (and is still on display on Cannon Steet) in 1990, and was an important part of the international conversation as the Berlin Wall came down and Russia re-entered the world as a separate power. The other notable piece is ‘To the Struggle Against World Terrorism’ – often known as the ‘Tear of Grief’, which was presented to America in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, and were a potent symbol of international cooperation.

The United Nations

The United Nations recognises the power of art as a diplomatic and cultural tool, and maintains a collection of the many gifts they have received from member nations. Some of them are literal fragments of history – including a piece of the Berlin Wall – but the majority are paintings and sculptures inspired by the notion of peace. It’s a peace that more and more people have been able to enjoy in recent years, thanks the diplomacy and discussion fostered by organisations like the UN, and this gallery is a fitting testament to their work.

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