Art & Design | PSHE

Farewell: the artist who reinvented women

Can painting change the world? Artist Paula Rego died on Wednesday. “She taught us how to sew, draw, put on eyeliner and tell uncomfortable stories”, said her granddaughter. This Wednesday, the art world lost a true hero. The Portuguese-English painter Paula Rego died aged 87, after a short illness. Her death prompted an outpouring of celebration. Documentary maker Dr Janina Ramirez said: “You changed the world through art, you fierce, fabulous female. Rego was a radical artist. Her works depicted women with honesty. Smart says: “She taught me as a young woman to be absolutely and unapologetically gross.” She fought against injustice. Art critic Alastair Sooke calls Rego “a crusader, a battler, someone spoiling for a fight.” After Portugal banned abortion in 1997, Rego produced a series of pastels depicting the horrors of illegal abortions. It has been claimed that pictures convinced the Portuguese public to campaign for a new referendum in 2007, in which abortion was legalised. Some see Rego’s eventual victory as proof that art can change the world.  They can point to many other examples. Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, an enormous painting depicting a Spanish Civil War bombing by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, woke the world up to the violence of those regimes. Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With Americans to the horrors of segregation.  Art influences society by changing opinions and promoting values. Contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson writes: “It can make the world felt. And this felt feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action.”  Others disagree. People change the world, not paintings. Art, says academic Hanan Toukan, “cannot change the world. If it was going to then it would have already done that.”  Can painting change the world? Picture perfect Yes: Great art fills our minds with ideas, some of which stick around long afterwards. Those ideas may come to influence our actions at crucial moments of decision, whether we are aware of it or not. No: The idea that art can change the world is a pleasing thought. But who can name a single moment when a painting stopped a battle, created a huge new technology or saved an endangered species? No one. Or…. Perhaps pictures of ancient heroes inspired Napoleon to wage war, or Guernica convinced Churchill to oppose the Nazis. We will never know unless we learn to read the minds of others.       KeywordsPastels - A work of art where colour is applied to a surface using a pastel stick.

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