Art, whether it’s the art of being an executive, a great athlete or a painter, goes beyond relentless training and skill. We often take for granted the power of individual expression. Everyone, whether a business executive, celebrity, writer or painter, is creative with something beautiful and valuable to offer the world. Freedom of expression lifts us into the realm of sanctity that sets us apart from all other living beings.
My collaborations with Swedish cast-glass artist, Bertil Vallien, resulted in sizeable wall sculptures dedicated to human rights in the entryway of my museum, Imagine Museum. The inspirational quotes by human rights advocates etched in glass scattered amongst other glass sculptures reminded me of human beings’ harrowing, inspiring journeys and the power freedom of expression bears in our experiences.
Art reflects one of the most fundamental human rights — the right to express oneself in a magnificently unique way. Whether someone is creating art or observing it, the experience is personal, as it bears witness to the human experience. A pillar of U.S. ideals of individual freedom, Benjamin Franklin is famously credited with saying, “Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech.”
For this reason, artistic expression is dependent on human rights, and human rights are dependent on creative expression. We must understand the union between the two to preserve them.
Art Speaks When Words Fail
Language is for speaking, for conveying messages; it’s a symbolic sound code. Art, however, is to be expressed, absorbed and felt. It’s an intuitive, internalized consultation with the self about what feels right, proper and beautiful to you. It doesn’t tell you what to think; you create your thoughts and meaning regarding the work and thus, the lens through which you view the world.
Artists are uniquely positioned to act as human rights advocates, disseminating education through visually inspiring work that speaks volumes more than the limited confines of language. Many still don’t intimately understand their innate rights as human beings.
Visual art can usher in an awareness transcending the written and spoken word. It ruptures language barriers and cultural norms.
Human Rights Are Vital for Surviving and Thriving as Creative Beings
I once spoke at the United Nations (UN) about Eleanor Roosevelt’s contribution to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a doctrine set forth after the atrocities of World War II, which outlined 30 articles covering universal human rights. She emphasized that human rights begin at home.
Article 19 of the UDHR speaks especially to artists and impacts all human beings. It reads, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
This right acknowledges humankind’s tremendous freedom to imagine and shape a better future, a fundamental responsibility of artists. Author Neil Gaiman talks about a brighter world birthed from creating something never there before. I believe it’s a core responsibility of creatives to help sculpt a better future.
In my experience, the connection between artistic creation and freedom of expression undeniably impacts people. The stark contrast is evident when we consider the absence of human rights in some countries. We find suppression of artistic voices and the destruction of creative works. When creatives are denied the right to speak their truth fully, their art can (and likely will) be controlled.
In essence, our voices can be taken from us. We must protect the union between freedom of expression and art so our visionaries remain empowered to mold the future and enrich our cultures.
Artists, Use Your Power
Art communicates many concepts, even some that the artist may not have intended. The meaning attributed to creative work by its audience may spark discussion — perhaps even controversy. But therein lies the power of art and advocacy: Controversy leads to debate, which leads to discourse, which then leads to progress.
Creatives must embrace this responsibility and commit to using it for the greater good. Slander and damaging words between artists or between any human beings demean creativity and expression, which defeats the purpose of art or intelligent discourse. With freedom comes responsibility; otherwise, it may lead to degradation.
There’s an art to being an executive, athlete, musician, writer, podcaster, politician or doctor. There is an art to being human. Self-expression goes far beyond showing up to work and pure skill.
Trump Trashes Electric Vehicles Standing in Front of GOP Governor Who Supports Them
Priscilla Presley Disputes ‘Invalid’ Amendment to Lisa Marie’s Trust
Eight Women Say the Same Man Raped or Assaulted Them. Now They’re Out for Justice
Trump's Killing Spree: The Inside Story of His Race to Execute Every Prisoner He Could
Because everyone is an artist in their own right — entrepreneurs, writers, podcasters and even parents — creativity is the cornerstone of every worthwhile endeavor in each culture worldwide. However, if we don’t step into our power as creatives advocating for human rights, we give a foothold to those who would usurp our liberties. Art and human rights are intimately bound to one another, with the world resting in their power.
It’s time to stop taking this power for granted. We must raise the bar on human rights education — one artist at a time.