Where do new creative ideas come from? What drives change in society? What does it truly mean to fail?
These are all questions posed by Sarah Lewis in her speech titled Vision & Justice: Art and Citizenship, delivered this month as a part of a Creative Matters lecture series put on by the University of Iowa. An accomplished author on creativity (her book The Rise is a bestseller) and an Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies at Harvard University, Lewis shared her unique insights on art, social change, and failure with the audience. Her key lessons included:
Human life cannot exist without the arts
Imagine a world with no music, no art, or no dance. It would not exist. Humans, the creative beings that we are, will always find a way to use the arts as a form of self expression. Art and creativity give us the ability to express and understand feelings we may have no other way of voicing.
No culture on Earth is devoid of the arts, because despite external differences, we are all born with the instinct to create. From dance to woodworking to new media design, there are countless forms of expression that can be created. While some may view a painting as purely decorative or music as pleasant to hear, it means more to humanity than just that. Art fills an intrinsic need and human life would not be the same without it.
Art is an agent of social change
Many artists create work that addresses social change and advocates for reform. Anyone from a graphic designer to a street performer can use art to advocate for an issue or bring awareness to a cause. In some ways, artists use their abilities to speak for those who cannot.
Lewis urges artists to realize just how powerful, influential, and persuasive their creative abilities are. Whether it be used to unite a neighborhood or the entire world, art is an agent of social change that can be used to create a better, stronger society.
Art is the bridge that connects us to those unlike ourselves
Art, creativity, and vision are universal human attributes that span race, religion, and language. Two strangers with nothing in common can look at a piece of art or hear music and share an appreciation for it. From photography to writing to graphic design work, art is a connection tool that allows people from all walks of life to communicate.
Failure is a gift
Lewis describes success as a constant reaching towards improvement, not the arrival at one point. Failure is a necessary experience that signifies not the end, but rather the beginning of infinite possibilities. Some of the worlds most prominent ideas, inventions, and individuals arose from failure. Think how different the world would be if Walt Disney or Bill Gates had given up at the first sign of failure.
In 2014, Lewis gave a TED Talk about embracing the role of failure in one’s life in the pursuit of success and mastery. She describes success as not when we have done it all, but when we still have more to do. Failure is inevitable and when it does happen, it should be your greatest learning experience.