How the arts can make you a better human


I have a two-part mission in life: make loving the fine arts cool again, and teach people how to use the fine arts as a tool for their own personal development.

What I mean by the first part is fairly obvious. Our collective integration of the fine arts into our lives has waned dramatically in only a couple short generations. Faded are the days of our grandparents, where a big band record would always grace the turntable, going to the ballet was a typical date, and a symphony orchestra was a regular highlight on late night television. But now is also a golden age of the fine arts, with diversity finally enlarging the circle of whose work we are likely to see, with the internet serving up so much fine arts goodness it’s bursting at the seams, and a hugely creative and talented generation of artists doing what we previously thought impossible.

The second part of my mission is a little trickier for people to wrap their heads around. Art exists on an experiential plane between our everyday lives and the divine. Like the transcendent power of meditation, it can be difficult to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. Learning to be healed and opened by meditation is so incredibly similar to learning to be moved by art. There’s a part of your brain you need to learn to quiet, there’s another part you need to allow to blossom, and you also need to get your stressed-out, over-hyped body to calm down enough to process what you’re seeing or hearing at a deep, internal level.

I want to talk a lot about tools you can use to access the arts – instructions and information about how to look at a painting, or listen to a symphony, or actually understand a ballet. I believe that you need far more instructions than people usually give the average audience member or museum visitor. You need to know how to see, how to hear, how to watch. You need historical context. You need technical context. That’s how you get to be a #superfan of the fine arts – by the combination of learning and experiencing.

But these tools aren’t meant to be just a path to not looking dumb (though I hope they help you feel more confident in artistic settings). They’re meant to give you enough ability that you can get what you need to get out of the arts. And what you need to get is a better understanding of yourself and what it means to be a person.

At its heart, every work of art is about the human experience. Every symphony, every sculpture, every play. Even works about nature are about our experience of nature – our interpretation, what nature means to us, what we need from it. Even an abstract piece of contemporary music is about the human experience, because it’s created by a living, breathing human being, and, like a jewel, it throws beams of that creator’s spirit/life/being out through its reflections. When we take in art, we see parts of our own experience. We feel parts of our own feelings. Perhaps we catch glimpses of our own sorrows, our own struggles, our own shortcomings. Perhaps we also see the triumph of human accomplishment and know that we, too, can accomplish the great things we were born to do. Perhaps we know we, too, are creators.

I want people to come back to loving the fine arts because it’s fun, and because it’s a marvellously rewarding personal pursuit. It’s a life-long hobby that pays dividends every time you give it your attention. But I also want people to come back to the fine arts because they’re instructions for being a person. They’re a mystical, ethereal way to help process hard emotions… and God knows we all have plenty of those these days. The arts are a soothing balm for anxious minds, an invigorating call to action for those who need motivation, and an endless pool of uplift when you just need a bit of a reprieve.

I just want the world to know this. I want you to know this. Art doesn’t just make you smarter, or classier, or more interesting (though it does do all those things) – it makes you a better person. Or, more accurately, it lights up the most wonderful things already inside you, and helps you turn down the volume on everything in your way.