Creativity for Good


Creativity for Good

We all know French artist JR won this year’s $100,000 TED Prize this week. Even amongst his illustrious fellow TED alumni, the pioneering individuals exploring the limits of our universe, our economics, our medicine, he deserved it. He daringly crossed dangerous cultural and political boundaries time and time again to prove that humans are humans are humans despite our insistence otherwise. JR’s work showcases not only photography’s innate power for affecting emotion, his string of projects demonstrate brilliantly the human need for a strong voice. Creative upheaval is the prélude to social upheaval, after all.

And this may mark the first serial occurrence of art being made in conflict zones for the exclusive benefit and enjoyment of the people within them. JR’s large scale art was not made to be dissected and gawked at by westerners, and that in and of itself marks a paradigm shift. And since the artist, works free of any brand, sponsor or gallery obligation, his work remains unclouded by agenda.

The importance of his winning of this particular prize, in any case, cannot be understated. TED is a viral platform for intellectual discourse broader and more well-respected than any other. JR’s work, born of graffiti and defiance – as well as work of other artist activists by extension – enters into the cannon of unquestioned respectability. The inroads ostensibly made by the likes of Shepard Fairey and Banksy and Space Invader before him have been cleared. And while this may mean artist activists are no longer the fly-by-night, black knight badasses they once were, they are still badasses. But not badasses who consciously construct auras of badass around themselves: they’re badasses because they innovate in the name of good.

In a broader sense, what we are witnessing today (to say nothing of art’s schizophrenic democratisation) is creative culture’s wholesale shift towards benevolence. It seems the most pleasant side effect of our over connectedness has been an attack of conscience: never before has there been such a critical mass of creativity for good! From Fuseproject to Kickstarter to GOOD and even to Pepsi’s impressive Refresh project, the initiatives are plenty. Witness the rise to demi-stardom of the unassumingly brilliant scientist Hans Rosling, who uses motion and attractive graphics to bring important statistics to life in extraordinarily enjoyable ways. The study of ethics has surged. The best design education now seeks to cultivate culturally aware innovators. Starchitects like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, whose quixotic projects have little value beyond their wow factor, are being supplanted by visionaries like Bjarke Ingels, whose wildly imaginative and socially relevant projects are shifting paradigms about our lived-in future.

JR’s art exemplifies these shifts. He was a rowdy kid whose genuine inquisitiveness and capacity for human connection brought him to a position in which his penchant for change will allow him to be a conduit for progress on a much grander scale. The outgrowth of the prize is called Inside Out Project, and is a sort of fermata in the path of his body of work up until now: it will take guerilla art farther and wider than it’s gone before. And the best part is, he’s leaving it up to you and I to figure out what to do with it: we send him a portrait, he’ll blow it up and send it back.

We all know something has capitulated in our collective conscious. And we’re ecstatic now that it’s official.

Tag Christof – Images courtesy Inside Out