Leonardo Journal Editorial by Ricardo Dal Farra

Can the Arts Help to Save the World?
We are living in a world that is reaching a critical point where the equilibrium between a healthy environment, the energy our society needs to maintain or improve this lifestyle and our interconnected economies could quickly change, from the current complex balance to a completely new reality where unbalance would be the rule and human beings must become more creative than ever before in order to survive. Have the arts a role in all this? Do artists have a responsibility in this context?

But who are the “we”, in the preceding paragraph? Clearly not everyone on Earth but at least those of us reading these lines and many others around. A large part of the population is living in uncertainty [regarding basic needs] and many barely surviving. Then how can we do something from where we stand to become more humans?. We don’t need to abandon our activities, but perhaps more can be done to help.

John Cage put together a list of rules for students and teachers. Among those, number seven starts with: “The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something.” [perhaps not valid for everyone but for many] And then number ten: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules.”. I hope we can examine our journey, reflect upon it, keep building and start again and again, breaking our own carefully constructed rules when we viscerally feel that is needed.

When the Balance-Unbalance project started some years ago (the original name in Spanish is Equilibrio-Desequilibrio) it probably appeared to be a naïve, good-will based, utopian initiative, trying to join intelligence and forces from a variety of fields using [e]art as a catalyst to face a problem we all share: the complex environmental crisis.

This proposed catalyst is starting to act by helping to bring people from very different sectors of society together. And today, Balance-Unbalance is working not only to prove it is feasible to connect art creation and realistic tools for change but to actually make that happen, and taking it as far as possible. The [e]arts as a driving force for…? Yes, sometimes it happens that the unexpected but highly desired occurs: the possibility to work on a project where artistic quality, knowledge building and humanitarian actions are all together in a balanced equation to confront the unbalance.

The art!⋈climate project became possible as a creation-knowledge-action proposal to reach those who are already affected or in imminent danger from the consequences of climate change, and also to those who are not directly touched by it yet. It can be seen as a tool but it is not less artistic for being that. On the contrary, the principal idea here grows from a cooperative effort having powerful means based on artistic creations -with a value independently from its potential functionality- and simultaneously, a tangible application in humanitarian actions. It seems to be a true collaboration that can have an effect on “real people” while preserving the significance and meaning of each contribution and action. Art can be created with or without a specific goal, and this appears like one of those cases where both situations harmonize.

art!⋈climate has been developed -as part of the Balance-Unbalance initiative- by the Electronic Arts Experimentation and Research Centre (Centro de Experimentación e Investigación en Artes Electrónicas – CEIArtE) at National University of Tres de Febrero in Argentina and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre. It is a project with multiple stages, and we are just realizing the first steps, convinced of the potential “benefits” in a variety of ways. Please feel welcomed to share your thoughts, knowledge, comments and -even- critiques [!] with us; and let us know about your initiatives too; we want to help in building a network without duplicating efforts but to extend our possibilities and learn from each other.

And because this first instance of art!⋈climate is devoted to the power of organized sound, I want to end quoting Jacques Attali, from his seminal book Noise. The Political Economy of Music: “All music, any organization of sounds is then a tool for the creation or consolidation of a community, of a totality” […] “Music is prophecy”.
Ricardo Dal Farra
E-mail: <ricardo.dalfarra@concordia.ca>
Web: <http://hexagram.concordia.ca/researcher/ricardo-dal-farra>

1. Attali, Jacques 1977 [English translation by Brian Massumi, 1985]. Noise. The Political Economy of Music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

2. Balance-Unbalance conference 2011 <http://balance-unbalance2011.hexagram.ca>
2. Balance-Unbalance conference 2013 <http://www.balance-unbalance2013.org>
3. art!⋈climate contest (arte!⋈clima) <http://www.ceiarteuntref.edu.ar/art_climate>



  1. Thanks so much Ricardo and Roger for posting this. This is music to my ears. I will research the art!⋈climate project. It sounds very interesting and so in tune with my writings on change.

  2. Yes, Art can save the world. And the best reasons are not even yet present in the text. Here are some reasons:
    1. Art means metaphor. Through metaphor different sides can find common ground.
    2. Art means possibility. Through art we can find and imagine new and different solutions than those that failed.
    3. Art builds community. Isn’t it poor neighborhoods with lots of artists that become hip, and flourishing again?
    4. Art may (depending on vision and quality of the art) confront us with hidden pain and paradigms that damage our world or open our soul to what it really wants, and make us aware of restraining boundaries we’ve let ourselves into or help us to show that the world we long for is possible and perhaps even already present in the world around us.

    Here’s what I wrote about Art in education (that creates too much disconnectedness):
    “Through art we become fully human in our expression of what is essential to us.”

    One could consider art the opposite of nature. It isn’t. It is the deepest possible expression of our connections and state of being. It is the expression of our nature and being. It is the key to our imagination and the field of potentiality. It helps everyone of us to get a clearer sight of what we essentially contribute, how our personal gift works and how it influences others. The marginal existence art has in many educations is worrying. A recent study showed that drama classes once a week result in better cooperation skills, better learning and more aliveness in students. The whole concept of self expression through art will also influence the broadness with which a student can approach a subject, the variety of ways he can phrase his ideas and enlarge the capability to include personal feelings into the subject.
    Art, like play, helps to develop both brain sides better and faster. Art helps to be more nuanced and more observant. Art helps to develop the small motor skills and the grand gesture. Art helps to understand how we all are very different and the value in that. Art can even help to develop engineering skills and the patience needed for hard work. And perhaps most of all, art helps to become imaginative, to dream and fantasize. For if we can and dare to dream beyond our personal horizon, it also becomes more easy to be in touch with the whole world and see what is happening there, and how that relates to our personal life.
    Art classes sadly focus mostly on technique, but as Picasso said, it took me 5 years to learn to draw like a master and the rest of my life to unlearn and draw pure like a child. Art classes should be less interested in technique. I learned most technique from the comics I read and trying to copy them; at home in my free time. Art class should focus on concepting, trying out very diverse styles (even those in which the teacher feels vey incompetent and insecure). It should help to see and observe what works and why. It should trigger the imagination of the student and his capacity to self express in a personal way, a way that deepens the connection between self and all others. In art there is no best of the class, there is only shared beauty, ideas and pain. For this last one, art is also very helpful. It can open mouths and instigate dialogue about personal feelings and things that matter. For the more connected a student is to what matters and the more free it feels to voice this aloud, the stronger and more powerful they’ll be on the path they’ll choose for themselves. This last bit in itself makes art to an essential cornerstone of all learning.

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