Whilst there will eternally be debates about the purpose of art, what is known for certain is that art is exceptionally powerful in a way that even a lot of artists and art critics do not necessarily expect.
Despite the protestations of Aesthetes like Oscar Wilde that art must be useless, and art can simply be something beautiful in a beautiful frame, art has the power to change the world, because they are the most vivid way to convey an idea, one that lodges in the mind of the people who observe it.
Art has the power to change the world, and as these pieces show, this power is not only figurative but quite literal.
Guernica, Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso is one of the greatest and most revolutionary painters in history, and whilst the meanings of so many of his works have been discussed and debated as they travel through the great galleries of London, arguably his finest work is also his most straightforward.
Painted in 1937, Guernica is one of the most powerful anti-war works ever painted, depicting the brutality of the war and its effects on people and has since become a universal symbol for the horrors of war.
It was also made and displayed to raise money for the anti-fascists in Spain and particularly in the Basque, refusing to let it be displayed in Spain until the Francoist dictatorship was dismantled, which only happened two years after Mr Picasso died.
The Death Of Marat, Jacque-Louis David
Whilst politics have been a part of art for as long as political systems have existed, The Death of Marat is one of the first truly politically active works, explicitly depicting the assassinated revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat in a style typically associated with biblical figures.
Painted in 1893 and widely disseminated not long after Mr Marat’s murder, it became a vivid symbol of revolutionary martyrs during the Reign Of Terror from 1793 to 1794.
Whilst it was effectively in exile along with its creator, it would see a revival in interest and would eventually inspire, among many other painters, Pablo Picasso.
The Problem We All Live With, Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell is associated with a sense of optimistic Americana sentimentality that made him extraordinarily successful but often a pariah of art critics who considered his works saccharine and banal.
This was quite an unfair assessment, particularly given the power his later political works would have, particularly The Problem We All Live With.
A profound anti-racist work, it depicts six-year-old Ruby Bridges walking to school during the desegregation crisis whilst protected by US Marshals, from the point of view of the protestors and showing the acts of violence against the wall, including a word so vile it nearly stopped the work from being displayed in the Oval Office in 2011.
It received sacks of hateful letters, but this was an illustration that hatred proving that someone stood for something that matters, and many of the critics who had savagely critiqued Four Freedoms or Saying Grace were moved to tears by the power of Mr Rockwell’s framing.
Barack Obama, when he was President of the United States, noted that if it wasn’t for Ruby Bridges and Norman Rockwell, there is a chance that he may never have become President. There are few works that have proven to be this powerful.