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TEDxWarsaw - Lori Kent - 3/5/10

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I couldn't have the regular headset, because they'd have to clip it to something that only airport security can see. (laughter) OK, I'm here to ask you to fall in love with the artist mind. I'm here to persuade you. And I'm going to do that in a couple of ways. Mostly, I'm going to meander through history, and I'm going to show you how important the arts are in human culture. I'm going to show you the special ways that artists think. Why am I doing this? Actually, I'm an artist myself and, here, I'll prove it. (laughter, applause) I'm here, sorry, I'm either an artist, or I'm French. I work in painting, a little bit, you'll see, photography and community-based arts. This is a picture of me in New Orleans in 1960-- (coughs), and maybe you've had this experience yourself, playing in fingerpaints, when you were really little. It's fun, isn't it? You dig in to the paints, it's all squishy. You rub it all over yourself, you taste it. You're going to make a mess in your house. But, importantly, you're expressing yourself before you even have language. The thing about being an artist is, we never really outgrow this stage. It's really great, life. But second and more serious reason why I want to talk to you a little bit about what is essentially an arts advocacy message, is because when I live in New York, I used to make a living in the New York City public schools, teaching kids in the inner city about art. And what I've found is: kids that live lives in neglect and abuse, when you put art materials in their hands, for the time that they're allowed to be artists, their lives are filled with joy. And that's an amazing thing to see, so-- Uhm, which one? -- Also, as an artist, I have to work against stereotypes. Maybe you know that person that mistakes a bad mood for creativity? Right? Or the artist that finds their creativity inside of a bottle? And I think the worst stereotype of all, here represented by Van Gogh's bloody ear, is the "tortured artist" myth which I don't believe to be true at all. You don't-- Again, I think art is very joyful. Although stereotypes do come from somewhere, and Poland makes great vodka so, way to go Poland. (applause) Oh boy. But seriously, right now, the whole world seems to be in a time of re-evalutaion. You might call it an economic downturn. We're rethinking, really, what money means, what prosperity means, what we want to invest in to keep this planet going. And what I don't want to see happen, is the arts cast aside, because it's seen as inpractical or unnecessary. So let me show you how artist functioned in 30,000 years of history, it's going to go by fast. I can't tell you exactly what was going on in the mind of this paleolithic artist, but what I do know, is that they accurately painted the worlds around them in star patterns, and animals, and it's believed that they were creating space for ritual, and ritual, of course, is very important to us as humans. Some experts believe that humans have this innate need to make certain things special. So when you go to the museum and you look at these objects, there's special things, and they give us insight into past cultures, and how people used to think. During the classical Greek period, some consider this the beginnings of our western civilization, artists made beautiful statuary and thimbles that were originally multi-coloured, and now faded to white, but we still admire them for their beauty and their mathematics. The Dark Ages were not necessarily dark for artists. In fact, we were really, hugely responsible for spreading Christianity, this is no small task, all throughout Asia Minor, through the use of pictures. It was the Renaissance that gave us art superstars, the people that we remember today, like, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael. People we admire, their creativity and their inventiveness, and still use them as models, here I show Leonardo Da Vinci having a conversation with the Pope over subject matter. But about 100 years ago, art changed and it became more about the idea than the object itself. And this sometimes angers and confuses people, as with the case of Duchamp's urinal, presented as a ready-made work of art. And sometimes this does work against the arts, because it takes a little bit more work now to understand what's going on. We're in a time of post-postmodernism, and I'm sure, no matter what field you're in, [you] in the audience, I'm not sure exactly how digital technologies are going to ultimately change the arts. It's still too new, but we definitely use these technologies today. So here, at the core of my lecture, let me show you how artists think, with the disclaimer that of course it's not just artists that think this way, there are creative scientists, business people, and also with the disclaimer that, of course, in 13 minutes it's an oversimplification. But let me begin by saying: this is based on my own experience as an artist, a professor of arts, and-- also, I do a lot of reading in the cognitive and social sciences, and I know that we now know more about how humans learn, and how we're motivated, and so we're living in a very exciting time right now. First thing: artists see well. We have vision. And, probably, the number one goal for an arts education is to develop a really keen sense of observation, this is very important. The word, "see," in English, and I've been told, also in Polish, is synonymous with understanding. When you say, you have vision, that's more than just seeing with your eyes. That's being able to imagine a future, and to invent things. Artists problem-find. And this is a bit different than problem solving which is essentially what designers do. Artists look over the things with the world, and they put bits and pieces together and construct culture, and then they reinterpret that culture back to itself. This is really the task of a visual artist. Artists are self-aware, and this is a really good way to face the world, particularly when you're dealing with difference, "[one] or the other". When you see a work of art, you're basically looking into the mind of an artist, and many people believe that art is a process of meaning-making. I believe, when self-awareness fades away, and this may be a stretch, really bad things happen in culture. Remember about a year ago? Poor Bernie Maydolf, rotting away in jail. So I do encourage us all to think about our own levels of self-awareness. Artists are experts at play. Remember the fingerpaints? It's really fun to work with the materials of the visual arts, painting and sculpture. It's also very fun to think about new ideas, and talk with people about your ideas. And, you can look in the TED archives, Stuart Brown tells us that play across the human lifespan is incredibly good and necessary for us. Artists embrace difficulty. This begins when you announce to your parents that you want to be an artist, and they cry. (laughter) And also, it's hard to make a living. Most of us struggle, of course, there are a few art superstars. Here I show you Michelangelo in his difficult task. If you can imagine looking at a huge block of white marble, and trying to free the statue of David that's trapped on the inside. Not an easy task. Artists are multidisciplinary. Because right now almost anything can be the subject of art, we look at other fields, and we have conversations, but in all honesty, cooperation, collaboration is not easy, and maybe you'll hear bits and pieces of that today, with todays theme. So let me show you what happens sometimes when artists try to cooperate with one-another. Just to be honest, I had to throw that in. Artists reflect and critique, and within out education system as artists, we have the ritual of the studio critique, and that's when multiple minds get together and interpret, and create meaning about an art object. Now, this was before the term, "crowd-sourcing," right? We listen to other people's ideas about what we make, and we think very deeply about that. And this is, really, an essential critical thinking skill. So, back to where I've started, what might seem unnecessary in culture, might be really what's most necessary of all. That's what I argue. So we really have to be careful about what we discard as we move forward, and think about how the world will be. Who decides about what has the most value in culture and in education particularly? Well, the answer is simple: you do. We all do, we all construct culture in the most positive ways that we can imagine, hopefully. In 1957, the Soviets scared US policy-makers, when Sputnik was launched. It may seem like a long time ago, but it really affected the American educational system. What happened, is that the arts were diminished, and math and science was elevated, in curriculum in our schools. But the sad thing is, in my opinion it really has not worked for us. When I looked for this talk, the US is ranked 25th in the world in test scores in math and science, and reading. And that's right behind Latvia, although no offence to Latvia. So I'm thinking about a new sattelite for the 21st century, launched through global cooperation. And this is what my new satellite looks like, that we can all maybe look up, and stare at when we stare at the stars like Copernicus. So I want you to fall in love with artist's thinking. I think no matter what you do, and I'm sure that you do some really amazing things out there, whether it's innovation, change management, or particularly, business, you'll find a good match. Where do I ask you to put the arts, is really right in the center. You know, make your own day more artful. Look around at the beauty that may surround you, and support the arts, particularly in the lives of children, okay? Thank you. (applause) (Ralph Talmont:) Stay, stay. Is the mike still on? The idea of play you picked up on, which I personally find fascinating, of course, but that's neither here nor there. How does play, you think, work in the context of these artists trying to prevent this sort of violent occurence, and perhaps working out ways to collaborate a little better, and, how do you think, that could possibly reflect on, you know, the broader context? (Lori Kent:) I think, there's all different kinds of play. It feels like play when you lose sense of time, when you discover more who you are, and that, again, puts you in a really good position for cooperation. Cooperation is about listening, and having empathy and, if I were to overgeneralize, I'd say that a sensitive person might become an artist and be really good at these people-kinds of skills. Does that answer your question, Ralph? (RT:) I think so. (LK:) My surprise question. (RT:) Thank you, Lori. (LK:) Thank you.

Video Details

Duration: 13 minutes and 10 seconds
Country: Poland
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDxWarsaw
Director: TEDxWarsaw
Views: 95
Posted by: tedxwarsaw on Mar 16, 2010

Lori Kent is a New York visual artist, professor of visual studies, and adult art education and a Fulbright Fellow at the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków
Lori's talk calls for us to fall in love with art all over again.

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