Nina Simone “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?”
An image is a starting point for thinking. What it triggers is evoked from the life experience of the viewer, but the trigger itself is a structure of interrelationships that offers a way of putting past observations in a new light. Art presents a new perspective and the life of the work once created is continued in the minds of the viewers. The most significant new ideas always involve seeing in a new way whether in an individual’s personal evolution or a paradigm shift in a field of study. The philosopher Thomas Carlyle said, “The chief value of any book is that it excites the reader to self-activity”. This is good brain chemistry. So many of the connections to the nucleus accumbens, considered the pleasure center, come from the area associated with creative thinking and other higher mental activity, the prefrontal cortex. One function of art is to get people’s minds working, not just to stimulate new ways of thinking but to direct attention to what is important, to emphasize values. People need to know what matters.
Ai WeiWei is an artist that sees the need to make something visible, showing what numbers on a page can’t do, move us with the visceral reaction to quantity thereby making us feel the impact of the numbers. He draws attention to lost schoolchildren or refugees, big groups that are ignored to avoid feeling the connection to the tragedy. In the great line from Arthur Miller’s, “Death of a Salesman”- “Attention must be paid.”, talking about the everyday struggles of living. Art shines light on what people need to see. As long as we don’t see, we can avoid responsibility. When we see, we can’t avoid responding. That’s why art can have powerful influence on changing consciousness, and that’s where serious change will have to happen. Once a situation is taken in differently, it can change a whole point of view.
While the internet opens new territory to see, because it is led by the personal search, what a person is looking for can blinker them to what could actually enlarge the point of view. A simple way to open it up is to do image searches on topics of interest, narrow the search to contemporary art with your subject and see what current artists are trying to show about the world we all inhabit together. Seeing is the first beam of connection. The strength of the response is a measure of personal significance and an expansion of self-awareness.