Can Art change the World?

charcoal drawings by eoin mac lochlainn

I was thinking of Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) the other day. She was a German artist, born in what is now Kaliningrad.  I remember reading that she encouraged her son Peter to go off to fight in the First World War even though he was actually too young to enlist. She regretted this for the rest of her life.

He was killed as soon as he reached the front.

Her charcoal drawings and woodcut prints, deeply personal but also universal, often illustrate the horrors of war.  You can just see the tenderness and sensitivity of her drawing in the image below, I think the idea of motherhood was very important to her.  Here we see the Virgin Mary visiting her cousin Elisabeth, both of them expecting.  They can only imagine the destiny that awaits both their sons.

drawing by Kathe Kollwitz of the Virgin Mary meeting her cousin Elisabeth
Käthe Kollwitz: Maria und Elisabeth, 1927

During the war years she was introspective and full of self-doubt but her art served as an outlet for her anxieties, frustration and grief.  She believed that art could change the world. To quote from the catalogue that accompanied an exhibition of her work in the National Gallery of Ireland in 2017:  “Her aim was to help create a more just society and to break the cycle of destruction that was shaking the world”.

The images at the top are my own charcoal drawings, from a series I’ve been working on for the past few months.

I sometimes wonder: Can art change the world?  Well, the way I look at it is that art can cause a shift in one’s perspective.  The television news is so Black and White – good guys and bad guys – but real life is more nuanced.  When we stop to look at Kollwitz’s drawing, for instance, we begin to realise the complexities of the scene, of life…  Even if it stops us for a moment, is that not a good thing?

What do you think?  Can art change the world?

Käthe Kollwitz: Life, Death and War


  1. Hi Eoin, Always love your weekly post. We return home on 24/03. So hopefully we will meet again.

    Le meas,

    Niall Mac


  2. Cuimhnigh ar an méid ar scríobh tú faoi Naomh Bríd… a dhíol claíomh a hathar le cúnamh a thabhairt do na boicht…


  3. Hi Eoin. Art does indeed change the way we look at the world. Black, White, Yellow, Blue….. sadness and joy, hope and despair. Niall


  4. A beautiful post. It would be good to think art does change the world. If nothing else then at least it allows a voice and the power of expression from this who may not otherwise be heard to those who may not be listening. A world without it would be an awful thing. Long may it continue 🙂


  5. All dictators destroy culture and art because it tells the truth. You cannot measure how art changes the world, but if it is so potent that it has to be suppressed, it must therefore change the world.


  6. Such beautiful work. Poor Kathe sending her son off to die like that. Didn’t Rudyard Kipling do the same thing? His poor son had terrible eye-sight (I think he’d count as technically blind these days) and was killed during the Battle of the Somme. His body was never found (probably blown to bits).


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