How Art Inspired Outrage, Empathy and… the Revolution

A partial transcript of Episode 22 of my arts and culture radio show, THE ART MOVEMENT. Scroll down to listen to the full show.

culture and education can lead to a revolution, which is a forceful way for people to take charge of time, which is history in motion. Whether those people fall on the wrong side of history or the right side of history is the real challenge.

But the way I see it, the two energies that are the foundation of a revolution are outrage and empathy. So, at certain points in history, especially when a shocking event occurs like the explosion of Beirut, the death of George Floyd or 9/11 and so on…

The reactions they solicit are outrage and empathy. The way I see it, the former is a more impulsive one, it is more easily understood and that is why it instantly attracts more people.

That’s also why social media and, arguably, the internet at large are the best vehicles for outrage. Because they too are fast-paced and offer the promise of instant gratification. But because outrage is such an impulsive reaction and so strong, it tends to manifest itself as violence or through violent acts. Now, I would be naive to think that violence has no place in revolution and that’s true.

Also, violence itself manifests itself in various ways, not only via physical violence but through the destruction of cultural heritage, spiteful words and in ways that are a bit more concealed and don’t stand out as easily.

The other force, empathy, is a little harder to generate can easily be overcome by outrage, but in the end, empathy is the more long lasting of the two forces. But two of the conditions that empathy requires are time and distance. Which is why art is the perfect vehicle for empathy.

Art is not as immediate and can take time to both find and evaluate. But it also has that capacity to linger in your mind for far longer than the fast-paced world of social media. But also because to be sure, art like Nina Simone famously said should reflect the times. But also because art has that capacity to reveal truths that are timeless and universal.

Some of these truths are so plain to see but at the same time, to be aware of them is incredibly difficult. Although these are truths that are also a part of us, to become aware of them requires a certain distance or even detachment. It also requires us to be passive, as we are confronted by such truths.

Art provides just that distance and that type of confrontation. However, in a strange twist, it is impossible to know just what artwork will lead to such a powerful awakening.

The best way to achieve this awakening is by experiencing as much art as we can of as many kinds as we can all of the time. And you don’t need to be intellectually aware of the different art movements, just that art is varied and different and all of these varied and different styles, movements and forms represent different viewpoints. But no matter how different they are, there is always a timeless and universal truth within them that is also within us.

In a nutshell, that’s why I think that art is so important. That’s also why I think that I don’t have to agree with an artwork that I ideologically oppose in order to deem it good because that artwork too has a concealed, universal and timeless truth that will help me understand myself and the world around me.

Understanding that timeless and universal truth… that’s what empathy is all about. And it’s hard. But I really believe in my heart that that’s the revolution I want to be a part of. Are you with me?

Download the full radio show HERE.