One night I found myself sucked into a documentary series on Netflix’s titled The Art of Design. The eight part series followed artists in different fields as they discussed how they see the world through their craft. Though many others I know did not, I found it riveting.
Glued to the ideas and creativity each individual displayed, I started to look at the things around me with a different lens. I also started following many of the artists on social media so I could continue to see how they viewed the world around them.
One artist in particular continues to challenge my thinking about everyday life and art, Christoph Niemann. Christoph Niemann is an author, illustrator and artist. His work always stops me in my tracks and forces me to look at the world with fresh eyes.
He sees something I don’t see. I want to know what he sees when he looks at the clouds. The creativity and wit of layered in his artwork causes me to stop and think. Sometimes, his work does not jump out at me and I feel like I am looking at a Highlights hidden picture. But once I see it, I can’t unsee it. And then, the next time I see a comb, I instead picture it as Mr. Niemann did. From there I launch into the other objects I can imagine a comb being found in. His work sparks creativity. The gift of creativity can catch on and spread if we work to foster it, but trust me that idea is a whole different post.
This summer I was thrilled to learn The Metropolitan Museum of Art housed an exhibit with some of Mr. Niemann’s work that coincided with my visit to New York City. I love wandering through The Met. And on this particular July day, I loved that The Met kept their space air conditioned.
The exhibit, Talking Pictures: Camera-Phone Conversations Between Artists, explored how smartphones changed the way we share information. The Met commissioned twelve artists to communicate with another artist for five months using only images or video. No text. According to The Met website, the purpose was to explore, “what happens when artists are partnered with other artists and the pairs engage in a visual dialogue using only their phones”.
Fascinating. Two of the artists in the exhibit discovered they were both pregnant and ended their conversations with pictures of babies. Another pair painted canvases texting the images back and forth. But my favorite, Christoph Niemann and Nicholas Blechman, envisioned the world in such a playful way that compelled me to look at things in different ways. Each saw an image and created a narrative from it in a unique way with such wit and rare talent.
Their art did not always provoke outrage of speak to a major issue. But instead it made you stop and think. I thumbed through the book of their conversation for a good hour. I tried to imagine how I would add to it. I wondered how they got to the product I held. I wanted to ask what they thoughts about the product. I enjoyed seeing how they communicated differently and yet still the same.
Their art forced me to stop and pause. They communicated with pictures, which felt somewhat archaic despite the technology they used. And yet, they understood each other. They shared their world’s with intimacy. They heard from another person. They created something that meshed their ideas. They joined together to design a new image that represented each of them.
Everyday our lives are filled with words and texts and screens. We are entrusted with more than just images when we communicate. Are we making a positive impact with how we communicate? Are we forging a broader picture that invites others in? Or are we dividing the bigger picture into our own personal segments not meant for other perspectives?
I do not ask you take a vow of silence and only communicate with art or images. But I do ask that you look at the world you create with your life. Does it ask for another perspective? Does your life invite people to join you? Do you welcome and respect people you do not agree with? Or do you feed into the divisive rhetoric? Do you listen? Do you learn from our differences?
Our lives are enriched by our differences. The art of our lives that we create and share with each other carries more meaning and impact on our communities and world than the monolithic homogeneous worlds many of us fight so hard to live in.
Evaluate your world. And then, look at it from another perspective. Keep broadening the way you see things. Keep listening to how others see things. Do not fear a different perspective. Listen and learn. Then, reevaluate your world again.