Art Changes Consciousness
We have all heard the phrase â€œLife Imitates Artâ€. It points to the fact that artists are often in that space between imagination and the current society in which they live. While most members of society are busy doing, working, acquiring and toeing the line of social norms, artists are often detached from such behavior. In this space of detachment they take a look around and ahead and, through their creative process, come up with art works that challenge society to look at things differently.
This challenge often provokes a negative response, as society often does not want to face itself, particularly if the image is less than flattering. At other times, the artistâ€™s vision is embraced because it is a thematic call to action that resonates with a leading part of society. When this occurs, the artist is providing a valuable gift, as it can both show us a view of the future and deliver a powerful emotional message that shifts the consciousness of the person experiencing the art. This thinking was prompted by two separate experiences this past week.
There is a new, massive public art exhibit currently on display along Chicagoâ€™s lake front. The name of the exhibit is â€œCool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planetâ€. It is comprised of 124 globes, all five feet in diameter, that each present a way to fight global warming. In addition to these globes, there will be 200 mini-globes placed around the city during the summer, all with this same theme of fighting global warming by changing our behavior. Each of the globes has a plaque with a specific message, usually using statistics to suggest ways that the viewer can change her behavior to lower energy use, cut down on consumption and support initiatives world wide.
Some of these globes stick in my mind days later, as they were extremely creative and innovative in the ways they conveyed a message. Other globes of course were mundane and clichÃ©d, which can happen when that great a number of pieces of publicly commissioned art are assembled. Nevertheless, there were hundreds of people walking around all these globes during the two hours I was there; talking, pointing and clearly taking away information, impressions, and hopefully some renewed commitment to take action to slow global warming. There is no doubt that consciousness will be altered for a good number of the tens of thousands of people that will view this installation during the summer.
The other experience concerning art was an article in the New York Times about an artist named Eve S. Mosher. Ms. Mosher is a New York artist who is methodically drawing a line through Brooklyn and Manhattan that represents a point 10 feet above sea level. This represents where governmental agencies and insurance companies believe water could rise after a major storm. It also represents where the shore line might be as a result of global warming by the year 2050. Every day, Ms. Mosher pushes a cart filled with blue chalk along this line, walking on sidewalks, down streets and across parking lots, generally causing a lot of comments and curiosity along the way.
Ms. Mosher is supported by an environmental organization called the Canary Project [canary in the mine shaft] to help raise awareness to the potentially real consequences of global warming. The purpose is to use art to create a conversation, rather than just demonstrating or passing out flyers. The result is that many of the communities are reacting to and interacting with a public work of art for the first time. Imagine what the people who live seaside to this line might now be thinking? I am sure that some of them have had their consciousness altered and are now thinking of global warming a bit more personally. The action of one artist making a personal statement about her world, supported by a committed group of people is shifting consciousness. How wonderful!
These two situations represent the power of art to transform the way people look at the world. As someone who holds a degree in art history, I have long seen art as one of the most powerful forces of human society. It documents our cultures and civilizations. It moves us emotionally and psychologically, provoking euphoria or deep thought. As discussed here, it can actually change consciousness and open minds. As a futurist I also like art as it can show us where we might be going, whether we like it or not.