Artistic thinking36

The values and attributes that dominate and are responsible for the malaise of the modern world - narrow conceptions of efficiency and rationality - are almost diametrically opposed to the values promoted by artistic creativity.

The former worldview is summed up by words such as 'goal', 'objective', 'focus', 'strategy', 'outcome', 'calculation', 'measurable', 'quantifiable', 'logical', 'solution', 'efficient', 'effective', 'economic sense', 'profitable', 'rational' and 'linear'. In contrast, the artistic worldview is powerful for the very reason that it's not hostage to such a rigid vocabulary.

While culture is broad, a significant core consists of the arts, and the quintessence of the arts is artistic creativity. Human beings in all societies throughout history have expressed artistic creativity. What is unique about artistic creativity? What are its distinct attributes? What human values does it embody and share with others, so that it is capable of having deep significance for individuals, communities, and even, over time, for history? Can the arts reanchor humankind, knit together what has been rent apart?

At its best artistic creativity involves a journey which artists are impelled to undertake, not knowing where it will lead or if and how they will arrive; it involves truth-searching and embodies a quest for the profound and true; it has no calculated purpose, it is not goal-oriented, nor measurable in easy ways, nor fully explicable rationally - its outcome can be mysterious; it has no quick or easy solutions; it denies instant gratification; it accepts ambiguity, uncertainty and paradox; it calls upon humility and endurance; it endures the tedious and repetitious so as to reach mastery; it contains loneliness and the potential for failure; it recognizes that something beyond the rational such as a soul exists; it can offer glimpses of the (non-supernatural) sacred; it gives the spirit a connection outside itself; it originates in the self but aims to create work which enters the common space of humanity; it proclaims that humans have the right to pursue freedom and urges confidence in exercising that right; it inspires others to be brave and to risk failure; it champions originality and authenticity but opposes vanity; it accepts the potential for epiphany and exaltation and for fun and delight; it generates openness to new ideas and new ways of doing; it lives in the 'now' - it takes place in the moment; it is transgressive and disruptive of the existing order (not as a pose or to flaunt difference but as a necessary reality); it is often uncomfortable, even frightening.

Artistic creativity is expression. What is special about the artistic activities - singing, acting, writing, dancing, performing music, sculpting, painting, designing or drawing - especially in relation to developing cities? Participating in the arts uses the imaginary realm to a degree that other disciplines, such as sports or most of science, do not. Those are more rule-bound and precise. The distinction between involvement in arts and writing a computer programme, engineering or sports is that the latter are ends in themselves, they do not, or very rarely, change the way you perceive society; they tend to teach you something specific. The arts can have wider impacts by focusing on reflection and original thought; they pose challenges and want to communicate (mostly). If the goal of cities is to have self-motivated, creative places, they need engaged individuals who think. Turning imagination into reality or something tangible is a creative act, so the arts, more than most activities, are concerned with creativity, invention and innovation. Reinventing a city or nursing it through transition is a creative act, so an engagement with or through the arts helps.

This engagement with the arts combines stretching oneself and focusing, feeling the senses, expressing emotion and self-reflecting. Essential to it is mastering the craft through technical skill, on top of which is layered interpretation that sums up something meaningful to the listener or viewer. The result can be to broaden horizons, to convey meaning, with immediacy and/or depth, to communicate iconically so you grasp things in one without needing to understand step by step, to help nurture memory, to symbolize complex ideas and emotions, to see the previously unseen, to learn, to uplift, to encapsulate previously scattered thoughts, to anchor identity and to bond people to their community or, by contrast, to stun, to shock by depicting terrible images for social, moral or thought-provoking reasons, to criticize or to create joy, to entertain, to be beautiful; and the arts can even soothe the soul and promote popular morale. More broadly, expression through the arts is a way of passing ideas and concepts on to later generations in a (somewhat) universal language. To have these effects, the arts have to be communicated.

Not all art creates all these responses all of the time. The best art, though, works at a number of these levels simultaneously. Art, and especially the making of art rather than just consuming, triggers activity in the mind and agitates it (and even the body) - it arouses the senses and these form into emotion and then thought. It is not a linear process, but as it happens associations and seemingly random intuitions and connections come forth. It is more unstructured, less step-by-step than scientific or technological procedure; it looks more for intuition, it is freer flowing. It resonates at a deeper level. At their best the arts on occasion can lift you beyond the day-to-day on to a higher plane that some people call spiritual.

Humans are largely driven by their sensory and emotional landscape, in spite of centuries of developing scientific knowledge and logical, analytical, abstract and technical thought. They are not rational in a scientific sense, which does not mean they are irrational, rather arational. This is why all cultures develop the arts. As the arts can speak the language of the senses and feelings, they have immense power that the 'scientifically' minded should understand and use as it can help them achieve their aims. There are hardly any other ways of tapping into this knowledge. Perhaps meditation or sex. Thus participating in or consuming art helps interpret reality and can provide leadership and vision.

This highlights the role of the arts in tapping potential. The assumption is that everyone can in principle be more creative, involved, engaged, informed and that this is significant in creating citizenship in transition countries. The out-of-the-box, lateral thinking and use of imagination present in the arts are perhaps the most valuable things the arts can offer other disciplines such as planning, engineering, social services or to the business community, especially if allied to other emphases like a focus on local distinc-tiveness.

The arts help cities in a variety of ways. First, with their aesthetic focus they draw attention to quality and beauty. Unfortunately this is expressed in a limited way - typically a piece of public sculpture in front of an ugly or ordinary building. Yet in principle they challenge us to ask: 'Is this beautiful?' This should affect how urban design and architecture evolve. second, the arts challenge us to ask questions about ourselves as a place. This should lead us to ask: 'What kind of place do we want to be and how should we get there?' Arts programmes can challenge decision-makers by undertaking uncomfortable projects that force leaders to debate and take a stand. For example, an arts project about or with migrants might make us look at our prejudices. Arts projects can empower people who have previously not expressed their views, so artists working with communities can in effect help consult people. For example, a community play devised with a local group can tell us much more than a typical political process. Finally, arts projects can simply create enjoyment. A useful question to ask is: 'What is the problem and can a cultural approach help; can the arts help?' For intergenerational communication or mixing cultures, for example, clearly the arts are more effective than many other initiatives.

seen in this light the arts can help create an open-minded culture that is more resilient and adaptable to the changes brought about by political ructions and globalization. Think of any problem or opportunity and the arts might help. What other activity can better deal with dialogue between cultures or ethnic conflicts or allow individuals to discover talents, to gain confidence, to become motivated, to change the mindset, to involve themselves in community?

The lesson learnt is that perhaps it is artistic thinking that is the strongest message from the arts. planners, engineers, business people and social workers could all benefit from seeing their worlds through the eyes of artists

All of this has left out the fact that the best of our past arts ends up in museums, and so the arts also contribute to creating destinations - visitor attractions - and help foster a city's image as well as generating an economic impact, as do the best of the contemporary arts, which are found in galleries, theatres, performance venues or bookshops. Furthermore, it ignores that increasingly it is the marriage between scientific and artistic creativity that is driving the development of new products and services. Only a few cities have grasped these possibilities (one being San José).

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