The Colorado Grand Scholarship winning essay by senior Justin Jacobi
The Colorado Grand Scholarship winner
This is the winning essay for The Colorado Grand Scholarship, an $8,000 award given to Summit High School senior Justin Jacobi. Read more about the scholarship by searching “Colorado Grand.”
To see the world through someone else’s point of view or experience emotions in a visceral way is the essence of art. To walk a mile in someone’s shoes tells us not only much about them, but also about ourselves. Art fuels our curiosity and reveals a more nuanced way of looking at the world. This is the foundation of community. This is why the First Lady tells us that the arts are at the heart of our national life.
Looking, making, thinking, experiencing are our starting point. Art opens worlds, lets us see invisible things and creates new models for thinking. Art isn’t only something to look at or listen to, but something that does things and calls for action. We know the deprivations that exist in the community and how mental and emotional frustrations lead to wasted lives. Art is the sensitive area of the community and can clarify many things. It can project the beauty of people, the grace, the rhythm, the dignity. It can explain frustrations and stimulate joy. The artist is an integral part of the totality of the people. By encouraging people to take responsibility for their emotions, they can learn to take responsibility for their actions. Artists have a special responsibility to the people, and that art should be public and in places where people special support.
Humanitarian empathy can be expressed best through art. It can shape contemporary experiences and reach people needing emotional support. Art should receive public support. Without our support and investment, there is the possibility of art being a mere commodity in circles of hedge-fund billionaires and professional curators. All those buyers can judge for themselves what they like and put their tastes where their portfolio is. The result: fewer ideas exchanged, polarizing arguments initiated.
Modern technology has given us the Internet, the medium of the moment. The Internet may have brought the world closer, but it keeps people at a distance. This is not the milieu of nuance, but of demarcation. Is the dress blue and black or white and gold? Bleeding heart liberal or jack-boot conservative? Pacquiao or Mayweather? This is the realm of misanthropic trolls, prodded by their anonymity. Celebrity trumps social consciousness, and self-serving motivations trump altruistic ones. It is far easier to make inferences once we have simplified it to align with our existing beliefs.
Such generalizing impedes our capacity for empathy in two ways. Firstly, it is impossible to empathize through abstraction because an abstraction is by definition removed from the particular subject of empathy. Finding our commonalities as human beings is important but so is our need to acknowledge and respect the complex diversity of our experiences. Secondly, by making generalizations across a group of people, we remove their individual humanity. Taken to the extreme, this form of ignorance can lead to mass acts of inhumane cruelty. Yet, on a smaller scale, we do this daily, when we laugh at offhand comments we know to be offensive or, worse, completely ignore them.
The call is for more public art and art education. It is often misconceived that public art is a convenient write-off for millionaire donors not wishing to sully themselves with soup kitchens or poverty initiatives. It is true that there is a demand for roads, public safety and medical care. But just as the medical sciences are devoted to extending and improving the quality of life, the arts help us to understand the essential reasons for that life, the deeper values, visions and commitments that sustain our will to survive. The study of the arts by its very nature challenges the boundary between theory and practice — between knowing about and knowing how.
Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship, both with the artist and all who receive the same impression. Just as words transmit thoughts, so art transmits feelings. The activity of art is based on the fact that when we witness a man experiencing an emotion, we to some extent share it, to evoke in oneself a feeling that one has once experienced and to transmit that feeling to others through forms and colors, sounds or movements. Art is not pleasure but a means of union among people, joining them together in the same feelings and indispensable for life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity. Thanks to his capacity to express thoughts by words, every man may know the debt he owes to the past and be able to hand on what he has achieved to future generations. If humans lacked this capacity, we would be like wild beasts; and if people lacked this capacity for being infected by art, people might be more savage still, and more separated from one another.
It is only possible for us to recognize ourselves when we see ourselves through each other’s eyes. Art teaches us to not give up on one another, to embrace our flaws. It expands our ideas of who we are and who we’re capable of becoming, both as an individual and as a nation.
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