The other day, I had a conversation with a friend who was contemplating a new direction for her art. Lindsay is a fine artist, author, educator and a crafter. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally. She also received a prestigious grant to organize a large community art program involving thousands of knitters from around the world. She has taught adults in a world-renowned art institution and major universities.
With all her impressive achievements, I still consider Lindsay to be typical of artists today who exercise their multiple capabilities for personal fulfillment and largely for practical economic reasons. Artists, especially those with families to support, have to secure at least two or three jobs. If these jobs match their talents and passions, then all the better for the communities that benefit from their work. Fortunately, I live in a city that has grown to value their artists. Chicago is a multi-cultural melting pot of artistic talent celebrated in the art museums, live theater, musical and dance concerts, galleries, humanities festivals, and the list goes on.
Although the ability of the arts to bring about cultural and economic vitality is well promoted, beyond this, I believe that the arts is the key to preserving humankind. Art holds up the mirror that reflects the truth about what we do as a society and its consequences. Art provides us with the context for having the clarity and the courage to ask the difficult questions and wrestle with them. It can be an arduous journey, but it is necessary for finding real answers.
Artists create. And they can create from nothing. What this world needs moving forward are more people like my artist friend Lindsay who finds that it is in her nature to pull from her many facets as author, educator and crafter all the necessary skills, ideas and inspiration to create something that will benefit her community.
Imagine that we had at least one artist on every block of this city, of this country, of this earth. Imagine what we could accomplish by multiplying that amount of talent by each artist’s stretch of their imagination. Given that opportunity, what can we as a civilized society accomplish? What can we create? The problems of this world can be overwhelming. The only way we can begin to wrap our minds around them is by wrapping them with our imagination–with ART–to see what’s possible and to boldly reach for it.
To an artist, the most important question is “What if?” What if the artist on my block got together and collaborated with other artists in my neighborhood? What if we went to the alderman with an artistic approach to address a specific problem in our ward? What if we grow this to be a city-wide initiative? What if Lindsay found this to be the new direction for her art?
Now, more than ever, is the time to ask the hard question. And you may find the answer in your block living next door.