The rise of community arts programs is providing tools for self-expression to many people with little to no art in their lives. It is a growing movement to reunite people with art and experience its benefits. People committed to bringing art to the larger public convey its importance in a wide range of imaginative ways, through photography and video, painting and murals, gardens and sculpture and beyond. Part of this effort should include helping people see the personal benefit to be gained from looking at art. In the past, the general population got their primary exposure to art from the architecture, sculpture and painting of their religion. Now it’s important to help people see that the particular art they choose to look at shows something about themselves, offers a window into their own psyches. People are naturally drawn to images that resonate with their own feelings. Noting those choices and talking about what thoughts they stir fosters emotional awareness, and builds intelligence in the process. Articulating the impressions stimulated by a painting strengthens the connections between the two hemispheres of the brain and increases the communication between intuition and reason. Even with young children, talking about art offers a way to use language that’s open, and not bogged down with right and wrong answers. Modern neuroscience has shown that far from interfering with rational thought, our feelings are what lead our thought, directing each person’s attention to what has significance for them. Feelings are the flag of personal importance and nothing educates our knowledge of feeling better than art. The philosopher Susanne Langer said that ”Art is the creation of symbols for human feeling.” Looking at Rembrandt or Egon Schiele, or Jenny Saville, or Hughie Lee-Smith can take people deeper into themselves. The insight of the artist is visible, training the insight of the viewer. The skills of the artist can command attention and admiration and have the ability to express human depth more eloquently than the untrained hand. Exposure to the free resource available in museums, galleries and books offers a wealth of art for emotional enrichment. Joseph Campbell said, “The eyes are the scouts of the heart”. Vision is always scanning, led by what we need to see.
The personal relationship with the art that speaks to you strengthens the unique individual mind by building self-awareness regarding emotional themes that guide thinking. Images organize information in a meaningful way. If it evokes feeling or pleasure in the beauty of its structure it’s more memorable. Looking at great art extends the ability to think in images, so crucial to making sense of things. What we’ve seen before increases what we’re able to see. As the neurophilosopher, Daniel Dennett wrote, “Vision depends on expectations.” Great art creates inner models for a more nuanced view of emotion than the ubiquitous atmosphere of superficial images on TV. Those images push a standardized way of being and seeing. Art expresses the depth.
The movement to bring art back to the community is essential to healing a public psyche torn apart by the violent and fear-inducing messages in the media. People feel separate from each other and confused about where to find our common humanity. This is what art gives. Community Arts offers a way to reunite all people with what validates and clarifies their inner lives.