The Power of Art as Experienced in When The Levees Broke

I mulled over my thoughts on When the Levees Broke during spring break, and my conclusion was that the film as a whole was incredibly dense, both in factual and emotive value. Since the film was informative, I was able to know more about the timeline of the events during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and more about the reactions and stories of individuals. The film evoked real feelings from me, as I’m sure it did for everyone who watched the documentary.

Beth’s words ring true when she said, “when you were moved by Levees it was done as a work of art.” Through our reaction from When the Levees Broke, I think it’s really important to consider the effects that are created from art. This is especially important as well considering our current political climate and how art is the salvation we need to cope with current events.

Art is subjective, which is mainly what makes various mediums of art so valuable. This subjectivity is partly why I became an English major; art like literature can affect people in so many different ways and mean something different to each person that encounters it. The content of Levees is heavy, which makes it hard to deal with in general. Yet when art, specifically Levees, evokes certain feelings from its viewers, that’s when it becomes much more expressive and does its job.

Personally, the story that I found the most moving in When The Levees Broke was Kimberly Polk’s. Polk narrated the story of her five-year-old daughter being swept away by the waters in the Lower Ninth Ward. This coincided with the visual of the very emotional funeral for Polk’s daughter. The interview intertwined with the funeral struck a personal chord for me and brought back memories I was not really prepared for. I was not ready to relive these memories when watching the film because I have never been so greatly affected as the victims of Hurricane Katrina so I did not expect to connect to the film so closely.

This is what “good art” does; it evokes feelings and employs concepts in your mind that may be completely detached from the topic of the art itself. This does not only go for visual art, however, such as films or pieces of artwork, it also goes for live artistic performances of humans that attempt to represent the past, present, and future.

Roach writes, “I argue that performed effigies–those fabricated from human bodies and the associations they evoke–provide communities with a method of perpetuating themselves through specially nominated mediums or surrogates: among them, actors, dancers, priests, street maskers, statesmen, celebrities, freaks, children, and especially, by virtue of an intense unsurprising paradox, corpses” (34). Here, Roach speaks to performances of artists such as actors and celebrities that value the past and preserve the present through effigies.

Like Roach writes, art, such as When the Levees Broke, attempts to archive events in the past so that we remember, and thus honor and respect these events. Many viewers can interpret performance effigies differently and through various ways, like my personal connection to Polk’s story, which is why a piece of art like Levees is successful.

When Beth says Levees moved us because it was doing so as a work of art, she was speaking to the immense effect art has on our personal thoughts and feelings. Art is created via emotion, and in turn produces it out of its viewers. This can be seen through any medium by any artist. Even if you think something is poorly created, it is still evoking emotions from you as a viewer.

It may seem obvious that art makes you feel things, but it’s important to consider when studying its history. Art has persisted and developed “since the dawn of time” so to speak. As Roach mentions, art represents current cultural and social events so that we may remember the past and interpret the present. This remembrance enables us to reflect on our own feelings of the specific event, as well as other memories the art piece might evoke.

It is helpful to consider the power of art because it can be an important coping mechanism for tragic and controversial events happening in our world today. While art does not necessarily provide a direct solution to a problem, it can spark a conversation with yourself or others, and that is a very powerful thing.

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