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The Art of Life: how arts and culture affect our values

“We need new ideas, we need new ways of doing things and we need a whole new way of approaching each other with much more empathy and understanding. This means that the rest of society really needs to focus on the world of art and culture as a vital source for not only solutions, but also ways of finding solutions… and a whole knew concept of what a valuable life really means.” – Uffe Elbaek, former Danish Minister of Culture

Last year the Future Generation Art Prize was created to help younger artists participate in the cultural development of societies in global transition. On launching the Prize, founder Victor Pinchuk said, “I believe artists can show our world of tomorrow better than politicians and analysts”.

This month a group of philanthropists working to promote social justice and peace met with artists to work on their relationship with art and culture.

Next week an art school will open in East London with a new model as both a school and communal space emphasising cooperation and experimentation. It is being set up to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and skills between artists, local residents and neighbourhood organisations.

These few examples go beyond art for art’s sake, they make art for our sake. More and more people are coming to the realisation that we are reaching the limits of our planet’s capacity to support us. Our wellbeing is declining and inequality is rising, which is fuelling conflict, mass migration, poverty and many other social problems. We need to act fast if we are to find new economic and social paradigms that recognise the limits of our finite planet and enable all people to flourish.

Can we transition the values of our society and economy within a generation? Well we need to give it our best shot, armed with insight into what makes a real difference. Our customs, behaviors, and values are byproducts of our culture. No one is born with greed, prejudice, bigotry and hatred; these are all learned behaviours. We need to find more and better ways to learn from and understand each other, disrupt vested interests and imagine and create more sustainable ways of living.

Art and culture’s core practice is one of the most participative, dynamic and social forms of human behaviour. It has the capacity to trigger reflection, generate empathy, create dialogue and foster new ideas and relationships and offers a powerful and democratic way of expressing, sharing and shaping values. It can help us build new capabilities and understand how to imagine and rehearse a different way of being and relating. It can enable us to design useful and meaningful things and is increasingly the basis of livelihoods and enterprises that are motivated by much more than profit.

But to fully release this potential, we need to deepen our understanding of how arts impact on our values and rethink how and why we value art. Our values represent our guiding principles, our broadest motivations, influencing the attitudes we hold and how we act. They shape the way we look at and understand the world and the mental structures that order our ideas. They are the frame through which we construct the stories that we tell ourselves and others about what is important.

In The Art of Life, Tim Kasser, professor of psychology and co-author of Common Cause; The Case for Working with our Cultural Values, sets out the evidence base for the shaping of values and explores the potential of engagement with art and culture to affect our:

  • self-acceptance,
  • affiliation, and
  • community feeling,

As well as values that are known to affect higher levels of personal, social, and ecological well-being such as:

  • freedom,
  • creativity,
  • self-respect,
  • equality and
  • unity with nature.

A number of people have offered their responses to the ideas that Tim explores in his article, including an emergent artist, a playwright, a campaigner, a designer, a director of a cultural organisation, and two academics from different disciplines. Their generous contributions and critique are fascinating and sometimes fierce.

This report is the beginning of a dialogue about how art and culture impact on our values, what that might look like in practice, and how we might foster new collaborations between artists and cultural institutions and the third sector to create new ideas for development.

This is a dialogue that needs lots of voices, and we’d love to hear from anyone who’d like to be involved.

This is a guest post by Shelagh Wright of Mission Models Money. You can download the report below, or contact her at: contact@missionmodelsmoney.org.uk

GuestThe Art of Life: how arts and culture affect our values

5 comments

Join the conversation
  • Bridget McKenzie - September 30, 2013 reply

    I’m interested to join in this dialogue. I’m interested in how the idea of Social Sculpture can be extended to become Planetary Sculpture, how artists can lead in finding practical and emotional design solutions that address both our values and our ways of living. How and where will this ongoing dialogue play out?

  • J Overton - December 23, 2013 reply

    I am interested to participate as an art and media studies teacher in SE London….I feel passionate about art as a connective network much like capillaries in our working ‘bodies’….I am investigating new projects for next term and want to ‘engage’ and inspire my classes and dialogues.

  • Afnan - January 25, 2015 reply

    So glad I stumbled across this blog post. Such a wonderful topic which aggregates art and ethics! Yes we do lack ethics and I dream of a career where I can do my best to positively contribute to the given culture. I never really thought that art is what shapes culture, always thought it was the other way around. Maybe it is a mutual relation. And about schools, it would be wonderful to see a new wave of teaching strategies as there are visible lackings in the existing systems. People like Ralph Steadman are good examples of how art can convey significant messages. thanks for the post!

  • Hazel Gillihan - June 17, 2015 reply

    In response to an earlier post

  • GVPTA | Vancouver Live Theatre News - December 28, 2015 reply

    […] Mission Models Money and Common Cause, 2013 http://valuesandframes.org/the-art-of-life/ […]

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