Art into Life
“Art has to be understood in a whole new way: as a raising of creative powers by the senses, that they become sharper, better, richer and much more potent; that the inner creative powers advance the present thinking structures through intuition, inspiration and imagination and don’t end with pure intellectual understanding. Furthermore the task of art is to develop emotion and feeling, and ultimately to develop willpower.”
— Joseph Beuys
We are interested in a larger context of art and creativity in society, in looking at these in a broader sense, as forces that change our state of attention. Artists are seekers, people who search and explore, question the status quo and think divergently, working within the complexity and the ever-changing flow of life, inspired by the unknown, paradoxes and ambiguities, those who want to communicate meaning in this world, who continuously find new perspectives on seeing, thinking, or making things. One of the reasons we started Visual Strolls and one of the reasons why the portrait of LaForesta is changing every season is so that we never stop learning to look at the world anew. We are interested in the artist in each of us in a sense given to this word by Joseph Beuys, Friedrich Schiller and others — not in a way how well we can draw, or have another incredible skill of making. That takes years of training. But in how we are amateur artists, where amateur is derived from the Latin “to love”. Amateur artists are those who love, and who write love letters to life. In any form. Freestyle. Love means attention and expression. Broadening attention would mean inviting more complexity into our perception of ourselves and the world around, and in order to welcome this complexity we need our whole selves to be engaged, complementing our rational capacities with emotional, spiritual and physical. Practicing art as a way of thinking and being throughout our lives and in different spheres of human activity is what we believe could contribute to creation of a more sustainable mindset.
In this text we explore some of the principles of the arts that do well entering our lives in every aspect of it. They are part of larger forces of creativity that do not belong to any particular field, they are interdisciplinary and essential part of our humanity. Thanks to them we have the capacity to widen our lives any moment, to enter into the unstoppable flow of seeking and discovering, to resist popular opinions, vulgarity and boredom. They remind us to never stop exploring and never stop being amateurs.
As we were pondering on this subject in the past months, we were inspired by the encounters with arts at 58th Venice Biennale, 21st international figuren.theater.festival, 13th International Festival of Contemporary Dance, XXII Triennale di Milano - Broken Nature, HELLERAU – European Centre for the Arts, and other spontaneous impulses we received moving between places and meeting humans, objects, installations, and other beings.
MULTITUDES OF MEANING
Art acknowledges that we are multitudes. In deep awareness of the diversity of human intelligence, there is no just one true way of looking at things or experiencing something. Art values subjectivity. It encourages divergent thinking and offers an escape from the traditional linear modes of thinking that is only relying on logic. It captures our affective primordial contact with the world often in non-discursive symbols of bodily understanding. Artistic experiences often talk to us through metaphoric meaning. For example, poetry takes real images, things we are familiar with, and at the same time evokes a wide range of allusions and associations. So it becomes a form of condensed knowledge that captures our concrete and lived experience — not in linear ways but rather as a symbolic articulation of our embodied experience and understanding of the world that we wouldn’t be able to express in any logical form that would do the experience justice.
The acknowledgement of diversity of truths is especially relevant as we find ourselves in need and are eager to disrupt the paradigm of knowledge consumption that is still dominating the world of education today. There is not always the right answer to a question, and the bigger the questions, the deeper go the roots of that tree, sometimes in rather diverse, or even opposite directions, and through many dimensions. Art as a way of thinking invites these multi-dimensional perspectives as a path towards deepening our understanding and learning to ask those big questions.
Art as a way of being welcomes neurodiversity and other forms of diversity, generously offering each of us to find our expression and appreciation so much easier through art than any other forms that value standards, productivity and effectiveness of communication above all.
Art-making and its appreciation are integral features of almost every society. It's the dimension of human existence that offers an account of space, time, and the world as people live them, their deepest talents and passions. Ken Robinson writes that “the arts are about the qualities of human experiences”. Through all the variety of art forms people give shape to their feelings, perceptions and experiences. These make up an expression of human culture. So to understand each other throughout cultures and nations of the world, we do it best by reading what artists of words write, what artist of images express visually, what musicians play, what performers show, and so on. Art is a reflection. It’s a mirror that doesn’t stay the same in a way it affects us throughout our lives. One and the same painting can mean different things at different moments of one’s life. Just like one and the same place can feel safe or unwelcoming depending on one’s inner state. Art expresses the intangible qualities of our perception.
EXPANDING OUR WORLD
Art can widen and deepen our reality. It can alter and enrich our perception of things. This involves letting go of something fixated, something that has established itself as the truth in our understanding. Every moment we have the power to reimagine parts that appear to be fixed, to gain new insights, so that our world becomes bigger, our outer and inner landscapes expand. We end up in a new territory, we experience something which is not part of our vocabulary of the yet felt, of the things for which we still have no names. We experience a symbolic transformation of our world - through a personal perception and metaphoric interpretation. It can happen in many instances: a sight of a painting, whose colours shriek as if touching a painful spot, or a smell that reminds you of a profound moment long gone, or music that takes you to new places, reaches under your skin, dives deep and brings a new sense of joy…
Beside changing the way we look at things or perceive reality, artistic practices can break down cultural barriers and tackle misconceptions. They can deconstruct reality by challenging everyday functions of objects, trajectories we take, how we come in contact with people. By questioning the established norms and the status quo, by braking routines, artistic practices can make something monotonous and outdated into something fascinating and alive. They can humanise and revitalise our everyday objects, spaces, worldview and beliefs.
Being able to generate new perspectives and create new meanings in the seemingly mundane and thus broadening the perspective, is a quality that makes innovation possible, and innovation is key for anything one can think of - from disentangling daily personal challenges to building more sustainable businesses and successful social structures, and probably for a general survival of a living species. How do we create cultures of sustained innovation where art as thinking and play enjoy enough attention and dilute the currently disbalanced structures that unproportionally foster effectiveness, efficiency and practical routines?
Organisations that have embarked on a journey of agile transformation, be it out of a purely lucrative motivation, often have to question those familiar concepts of efficiency and full utilisation and face the need to create space and time for allowing more of the Open Mode, where play and slack time are important ingredients for creativity to emerge, and mistakes are very welcome. Yet those are only a few teams normally in the specially designed Product or Business Innovation departments of those companies who are lucky to be offered this freedom, and roles like Chief Innovation Officer would generally look after a technological innovation as an inevitable strategy of survival, whereas most employees would still be getting judgemental looks from colleagues and management if found in a playful mood or gazing out of the window. What if art as thinking became an indispensable part of the organisation’s culture development, and artists were to collaborate with HR and leadership teams on designing employee development programs? What if it became a common pattern that an organisation leader also thinks of herself as an artist, and the entire activity of a business or non-profit is seen as an artwork that every employee is contributing to?
Similarly if we were to imagine this artistic approach in the realm of science, this mix of fun, experimenting with or without a clear purpose seems to undermine the image of the rigorous scientific method. What if it then could open up new doors and help make a step towards science X.0, where more play and poetry find their place into the modern science, complementing the somewhat impersonal, purposely neutral, extremely rational spirit that has been established with Descartes and the Scientific Revolution?
Art making can be a liberating experience of finding inner freedom to create and play. Whichever medium we choose for it, through artistic creation our ancient urge to express ourselves comes alive. We search for our own forms, own ways, sometimes having to create a new language in order to find who we are, that is not a shablon, not a repetition, but can be each time a new beginning. Creativity is also originality, and originality comes from our origins, our very personal experiences. In it we can’t copy anyone else, otherwise it won’t be fulfilling. With every breath we go in and search. Eventually we come out with a voice that is ours.
It’s a rather widespread opinion that art is a means of aesthetic attraction that has served evolutionary history of humankind, and somehow assisted in our procreation as species. Art is rarely recognised for its own intrinsic worth, but is rather seen as a ground that improves this or that skill and is therefore needed. All of this might well be true, but it seems incomplete, too practical, too limited to being means to an end. The philosopher Ellen Dissanayake in her writing views art as 'marking of something as special.’ She describes how through art people intend to expand certain aspects of their world out of the ordinary, into something that is worth devoting special attention to, something to care about and to treat with care. So in this way, we make art because we care.
Art and love drink from the same source of life energy, and are both manifestations of this creative energy in each of us. Difficult to reason about which one is the origin of the other, really, both the urge to create and urge to love are driving us towards voluntary and highly motivated activities, both engage our emotions, body and spirit, beyond what is merely reasonable. So bringing artistic practice into any sphere of life - learning, science, work - we bring in our passion, and with that create an opportunity for achieving very different outcomes from any activity, those that are deeper in meaning as they stem right out of our personal selves and what is dear to us; and those that are much more powerful in the effect they have on us individually and the world around.
SELF-REALISATION AND CHANGE
Stating that “everyone is an artist” Joseph Beuys was not saying that everyone is a painter, a sculptor, or a musician. He described a possibility for everyone to be a “social designer of the future”, one’s own future first and foremost, but also to partake in shaping the present and future of one’s surrounding. He proposed to enlarge the idea of art to include the whole creativity. He looked at creativity in terms of the inner powers which inhabit human beings and which can be developed further, so that self-realisation can happen. He called it ‘evolution of art’, which makes possible “to reach into the heart of society and starting from there to design the future anew, to reshape it, transform it". He compares any human to a sculptor who realises that her/his old sculpture needs improvement and chooses to reshape it. As an artist in this sense everyone is capable of working transformatively in their own life, as well as in the heart of the present culture.
Once out of an educational institution, where some of us may have had an opportunity to be offered space and good guidance for this self-realisation through art, for most of us the adult life goes on with arts being an external inspiration rather than a personal activity that helps develop our character further, or smoothly go through life challenges. Whereas since the past few decades Western society at large has actually the luxury of dedicating more time to artistic practice, compared to the secluded position art used to have for most of history of humankind, the mindset we have today is still one where art just isn’t serious enough to be dedicating government funds or even private time to. Ironically, art is called for when the problem is there already - as a therapy to treat social or personal malfunctions. What would make more sense, is giving art the just space from early school years, and not as another skill that society teaches its children to learn, but as a regular practice that it acknowledges the importance of.
Arts energise culture. They bring people together. Create sense of belonging. Build communities. Promote cooperation. A simple act of singing together, for example, serves all these aspects of communal doing, of storytelling, of collective connection. Art itself is a study of relationships. Through art we learn to perceive relationships, starting with ways we look at relationships of colours, of composition, of time contexts, of rhythms and silences, of performers or instruments. Arts can re-invent social connections and create dialogue between people who wouldn’t normally meet. The act of creating something together unites people. Like in relational aesthetics the main focus is human relations and the contexts in which they evolve. So events of all kinds are studies in relational aesthetics.
At Foresta we run multiple community events throughout the year, mostly framed as Research in Public, but at all times designed as experiences that equally engage the audience and invited contributors, in a way that the unfolding of the event remains a surprise to everyone, as much as it becomes everyone’s contribution to its nature of a gesamtkunstwerk.
EXPLORE THE UNKNOWN AND STAY CURIOUS
Interest in life is the most important thing. It keeps us going in times of storms. Creativity as everyday practice in all our living environments ensures that we will stay curious throughout our lives. Our imagination takes shape of the buildings we live in, thoughts we think, work we do, objects we see around. Surrounded by multi-sensual environment that invites imagination can be a wake up call from the repetitive monotonous activities, over-specialized work, four-cornered rooms, screens, and other phenomena, which after a long-term engagement shrink our world to a tiny lodge.
Exploring not-knowing can helps us to reimagine our worlds. Something that does not yet exist in the current established structures of our lives, something hard to articulate through the prism of rationalistic language, but that is deeply missed at the same time, can appear as we agree to move from what we know to what we don’t know yet but what already knows us. Resonating with a kindred spirit of Ann Hamilton, we realise that not-knowing isn’t ignorance. “Not knowing is a permissive and rigorous willingness to trust, leaving knowing in suspension, trusting in possibility without result, regarding as possible all manner of response. The responsibility of the artist … is the practice of recognizing.”
Potential for art is everywhere around us, in our homes and public buildings, in objects we use and streets we walk, thoughts we think and relationships we engage in, it is in any detail of the way we choose to live our lives. Creative life can expand onto inventing our own profession, and engage in its continuous process of development and evolving, staying flexible, not fixated into a label. It offers us to follow our true interests, to experiment without having to fulfil an expectation. Keeping thus the spirit alive we stay true to curiosity that moves us forward.
“All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin
All photos by Foresta Collective