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Art and Citizenship: How Artists Continue to Reshape Our World
Can art today bring about the catalytic social change that it has in the past? What is the role of the artist in shifting our perceptions, shattering biases, and creating the world we want? More than ever, we are inundated with images. Awash in them. Yet the artist alone has the power—through one iconic image, one profound gesture—to help focus our attention on what truly matters. In a bold new talk, Sarah Lewis makes a lucid and original case for art as a lever to social justice and cultural transformation. “The endeavor to affirm the dignity of human life cannot be waged without pictures,” she has written. “To be an engaged global citizen right now requires visual literacy.” Gathering in various threads—art history, technical innovation, race, photography, the story of America, and a deeply personal narrative—Lewis takes us to a place of deeper contemplation and understanding. She celebrates individual artists, invokes the collective imagination, and helps us see afresh both what is there, right in front of us, as well as what could be.
The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery
Where do new innovations—new ideas—spring from? It’s an enduring enigma, but, in this exquisite talk, Sarah Lewis offers a new understanding of what enables creative endeavors. What really drives iconic, transformational change on both a personal and an organizational level? From Nobel Prize–winning discoveries to new inventions to works of art, many of our creative triumphs are not achievements, but are conversions, corrections after failed attempts. Drawing on figures such as Frederick Douglass, Angela Duckworth, J. K. Rowling, and others, Lewis reveals the importance of play, grit, surrender, often ignored ideas, and the necessary experiments and follow-up attempts that lead to true breakthroughs. Smart, uplifting, and counterintuitive, this keynote will help change the way you think about creativity, innovation, and mastery: the path to success, Lewis notes, is often more surprising than we expect.
Sarah Lewis is the bestselling author of The Rise, which is the biography of an idea—a big idea—that no current term yet captures. It’s about creative human endeavor, and how innovation, mastery, and new concepts are found in unlikely places. Lewis also guest-edited the “Vision & Justice” issue of Aperture—a landmark collection that addresses race, photography, and social justice.
Sarah Lewis recently guest-edited the summer 2016 issue of Aperture, which has garnered enormous praise. The New York Times, in its article “Reclaiming the Photographic Narrative of African-Americans,” calls it “an insightful volume.” Time makes note of Lewis’s “masterly direction,” while writing that the issue “comes at a time astir with thoughtful considerations about black culture and a new quest for self and identity.” Talking to Fast Company, Lewis, says, “My aim for the issue was to create a constellation of artists, writers, scholars, poets, even musicians who could match the gravity—and enormity—of ‘Vision & Justice.’ I hope that it becomes the beginning of a conversation about the transformative role of images and pictures and cinema and media of all kinds for social justice and for citizenship.”
Lewis’s first book, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, a bestseller, has been hailed by a who’s who of creative thinkers. Lewis Hyde calls it a “welcome departure from standard accounts of artistry and innovation.” The New York Times calls it “strikingly original”: “Lewis’s voice is so lyrical and engaging that her book, The Rise, can be read in one sitting, which is so much the better since its argument is multilayered and needs to be taken whole.”
Lewis has spoken on the TED main stage, appeared on Oprah’s “Power List,” served on President Obama’s Arts Policy Committee, been profiled in Vogue, and is currently an Assistant Professor in the Departments of History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies. She has held positions at Yale’s School of Art, the Tate Modern, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and her essays have been published in Artforum and The Smithsonian. Her second book, on Frederick Douglass, will be published by Harvard University Press in 2016. She received her B.A. from Harvard, M. Phil from Oxford, and Ph.D. from Yale.
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