‘What is art? There is not one definition and artists are working every day to change the definition that already exists.’

In these films, Sam Keller, the Director of the Fondation Beyeler in Switzerland, reflects on art’s role in society, and its vital importance as a tool for providing new insight into our past, present and future.

For Keller, art reflects an innate need ‘to leave a trace; to create something truly personal about what it means to be a human being in this time and space.’ He quotes Robert Rauschenberg, who believed “artists should be a witness to their time in history”. To spend time looking at art, says Keller, is ‘to try to see the world with their eyes, and maybe be confronted with some aspects of life that we haven’t seen—or don’t want to.’

This power to provide fresh perspectives, Keller continues, means artists are vitally important: ‘We need them […] in a world like today’s, where no one has time and everything is industrially made.’ Present and historical works, he adds, can also ‘help us a great deal in understanding what the future might be’—and indeed, may come to seem ‘prophetic’.

Keller believes museums have a critical role to play in ‘preserving artefacts that might be important for future generations to understand the world, and giving people access to them.’ In a busy world, they provide much-needed space to reflect— ‘and maybe learn how, in a peaceful way, we can live together in society’. Art, he concludes, ‘shows we’re united in our differences, and that differences are a quality.’

September 2020