What is the purpose of art? For some, the answer is simply that art provides a creative outlet or an aesthetic beauty to the world, for others it is more complex, while still many believe art to be frivolous or a luxury. For me, both the creation and appreciation of art is an act of mindfulness that lends our fast-paced culture the much-needed opportunities to sit back and reflect. It has huge transformative potential in terms of how we act in, and understand our society.
Mindfulness is the act of paying attention on purpose in the present moment, with an open attitude. In other words, it is an active attempt to listen openly and without judgement to that which is around and within you. This act is often accomplished through meditative practices that ask you to focus on breath, sensation, feelings and thoughts.
Art forces us to take an open and curious approach to the present moment. When we are taking in someone’s art, we focus on it and open ourselves up to the idea or concept they are trying to share. When we are creating art, we focus in on our own experience so we can try to communicate it outwardly. Both acts; as creator and viewer, teach us to listen to what we or others are thinking and feeling, and how we are experiencing the world.
This has huge implications for how we interact with one another. In a culture that is so obsessed with social media, we have lost the ability to listen to both ourselves and to others. We spend so much time on the computer that we ignore the whimpers of discomfort in our back, or the restless energy in our legs. More research comes out all the time about how technology is making it difficult for children to read social cues, or about how our news feeds allow us to selectively listen to only the things that interest us.
This affects the vulnerable populations in our immediate community the most; those living on the streets who our cell phones distract us from, those suffering from mental illness who we can selectively tune out. As we draw awareness away from our digital selves into the present moment, in both the creation and appreciation of art, we learn to listen to ourselves and to others more openly.
I’ve always believed that listening is the greatest act of love. What would happen if as a society we began to value this act of listening through art? To ourselves, to others and more particularly to those vulnerable populations whose voices are so often dismissed or silenced? I believe we would see just how valuable art is in making this world a kinder place.