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Throughout history, art has been the medium of individual and collective expression. Art often records culture, religious beliefs, conflicts and joys. Victor Hugo wrote that “[F]rom the beginning of things down to the fifteenth century of the Christian era inclusive, architecture was…the chief expression of man in his various stages of development, whether as force or as intellect.” In his novel Notre Dame de Paris (also known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Hugo brought attention to the beauty of Gothic architecture, an art form that with its cathedrals’ arches and bell towers preserved the memory of kings, as well as the religious beliefs and traditions of the people of the time.

Art as an Instructional Instrument

The spectacular stained-glass windows of Notre Dame taught onlookers Bible stories with visual depictions. The central doorway of the cathedral, the magnificently carved Portal of Judgement related the tale of Judgement Day as the damned were led to Hades by demons and the good rose from graves while angels sounded trumpets. Thus, the art of the cathedral of Notre Dame instructed the poor, illiterate people of the Middle Ages while it reflected the cultural tastes of the era in which it was built. Moreover, Hugo’s novel brought to the attention of the French people the beauty of Gothic architecture and the need to preserve it. The moving narrative influenced readers so much that it brought about the restoration of the magnificent structure of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, a monument to France’s history, beauty, and national pride.

Art as Beauty and New Consciousness

The fine arts teach useful lessons about the past in the recordings of the cultural experiences of people. The emotional experience of being involved in artistic ventures also enriches the lives of those involved. One modern-day example of a group of artists and artisans dedicated to improving and enhancing society is named Assemble. These men and women work to return pride to neighborhoods by restoring beauty and appreciation of architectural design to existing or former structures. Organized in 2010, this creative group works with communities in restoring buildings such as a commercial unit that is near the entrance to Seven Sisters Underground Station. After this structure lay empty for over a decade, Assemble’s artisans produced a thousand hand-made ceramic tiles with which they covered the renovated building, returning beauty and pride to the area. In another community effort, Assemble also brought beautiful design and modernization to Granby Four Streets in Liverpool, where the city gave them four houses which they renovated in a renewed neighborhood.