Does art that makes you feel bad make the world a better place?

Depressing art
No news is good news, so if I want to feel thoroughly bad about the state of the world, listening to the hourly news bulletin on the radio does the job nicely. So I am not sure if I want to see films, TV programmes or visit art exhibitions that also depress me thoroughly. It is therefore with mixed feelings that I visited the Kader Attia: The Museum of Emotion exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery which ended last week. And boy was I right to be trepidatious.  

Political message
Images of faces mutilated in wars, sculptures that highlight the horrors of colonialism, and depressing scenes depicting how Algerians are marginalised in Paris, were not uplifting. Attia grew up in Paris as the son of Algerian immigrants, so he personally experienced being treated like an outsider in the place he lived. One of the first works you see in the exhibition is a large video projection (La Tour Robespierre, 2018) which shows the ‘inhuman modernism’ of Parisian modern housing blocks where the artist grew up. These modernist structures made Algerians feel there were being marginalised, controlled and watched. This video was actually quite beautiful and though its message was bleak, it was a sight for sore eyes compared with some of the other images I was to see later.  

The images that most upset me was in a slideshow showing images of disfigured soldiers from World War 1, who were treated to early rudimentary plastic surgey procedures. The bravery of these men broke my heart.  

No pain...
Many marketing and advertising campaigns also highlight human suffering, usually, no let’s face it, always, to encourage an emotional response that will get you reaching for your credit card. Many of the best reviews on these pages involve beautifully crafted films that have made me reach for my tissues.  

I don’t like feeling bad about the world, but I suppose if I didn’t I would do f*ck all to help change things. Not that I do much, but a regular donations to charities and feeble efforts to recycle and reuse are better than nothing, aren’t they?