There is no simple formula for becoming a more inclusive organization, compassionate individual, or better colleague or friend. Because every one of us is unique and multifaceted, what helps you might not work for someone else. What resonates with you today might not next month. To build and sustain authentic, meaningful, and lasting connections, we need to continually consider a variety of approaches to pave that pathway and support the journey. I believe experiencing art is an impactful way to open our minds to curious awareness, which leads to connections within ourselves and between people.
Art can provoke questions: What is it? What’s going on in that picture? Why did they build this? How did they make it? What does it mean? What makes that “art”?
Art can elicit reactions: So pretty! Ug - I hate that! This makes me uncomfortable. I don’t get it.
Art can bring up emotions and memories. It can make you look or listen more closely, or it can make you turn away. It might make you more curious about the artist or the work itself, or it could not interest you at all. Experiencing art (looking at, listening to, making, moving, and so on) can be a way to experience someone else’s point of view, often without ever talking to that person. It could even reveal something completely unexpected or unimaginable.
I believe in the power of art to do all these things and more. Ultimately, I think it’s how subjective and personal experiencing art is that makes it so meaningful. You don’t have to know anything about art or a particular artist to have an experience, response, or thought about a work of art. The questions, feelings, memories, and reactions that arise are why I think art is such an amazing tool for developing insights about ourselves and awarenesses about each other. It’s what art sparks.
Sometimes exploring a work of art brings up big questions: What is art? Why does it matter? (Or doesn’t it?) Who makes it? Who has access to it? Where is it? Where isn’t it? These are important considerations and opportunities for reflection and dialogue and open a door for discovery. Art is not valued in the same way by everyone, and may not even be valued at all. Before we even approach a work of art, there is an opportunity to see through someone else’s eyes when we explore the value of art together. Access to art (making, showing, learning about, experiencing) is limited, restricted, non-existent, or impossible for many individuals and groups. Introspection or conversation that can emerge around these conditions is essential for recognizing the numerous facets of inclusion (and exclusion) as well as nuances of perspective and point of view.
I think many people feel that to be more inclusive, we should understand one another. I agree that understanding is valuable, but I believe that awareness and acceptance are more essential and in fact necessary before understanding can truly develop. Because human nature and society are so complex, understanding may not always be attainable or realistic.
Understanding also has an element of qualifying because it indicates that you have judged or explained something. The Oxford Dictionary defines the verb understand as: “to perceive the significance, explanation, or cause of (something).” With awareness, we open to curiosity without assigning significance or cause, which leads to a more open type of connection that considers and accepts people as they are (including ourselves).
Art can help us open to questions that lead to a deeper connection with ourselves when we pay attention to how we respond to the artwork. We move from “What is that made of?” and “Why did she make it?” - concrete questions about the art and artist - to “What reactions am I aware of?” and “What’s here for me to pay attention to?” - questions about ourselves.
Noticing our responses with open curiosity also leads to deeper connections with others. Experiencing art together with friends or strangers provides infinite opportunities to build awareness, acceptance, and connection. When a friend and I share our personal opinions about a work of art, we can explore a different way of communicating with each other and we can learn something about ourselves in the process. When I hear or read another person’s thoughts and reactions about a work of art, I can discover something about that person because a window into their world opens. When two (or more) people look at a painting or listen to music or watch a dancer, they can reveal commonalities and differences they didn’t know previously.
I’ve seen so many examples of how art creates openings that lead to connections. When people pay attention to their reactions to a work of art, they create an opening to curiosity about themselves, someone else, or even something completely unexpected or seemingly unrelated. The opening might be just a crack or a sliver, or it could be a wide and expansive.
I love how art can lead to something else, and I love how art can bring me more into my own life. For me, it’s one more path to becoming open to being.