Creativity necessary for happiness

Published 9:27am Tuesday, May 29, 2012

By KIMBERLY BARRETT / Guest Columnist

Recently I spent the day wandering around the annual Montevallo Arts Festival. The park in which the festival is held, Orr Park, is a work of art itself with tree trunks carved into faces, alligators and other interesting creatures.

As I wondered around the booths talking to the various artists and depleting my bank account with compelling purchases, I was reminded of how important art is to humanity.

I was amazed by the ability of these artists, most of them from the Shelby County area, to capture elements of the human experience in a single painting, photograph, sculpture and other form of artistic expression.

It seemed to me the ultimate act of empathy, capturing with feeling the perspective of others. Talking with several artists about their backgrounds and how they came to this place in their lives, I began to understand how their creativity and empathy are the expression of essential aspects of our emotional intelligence related to happiness.

Many of the artists I talked to were older. Some were retired and starting on a second career. Of those who were retired only one had worked in a job directly related to their artistic skills. However, all seemed to exude a sense of contentment that signaled that they were pursuing their calling. One lady said that for her, the process of jewelry making was a form of meditation.

Although most of us will not become professional artists, I believe that participating in the arts helps all of us develop two very important skills — empathy and creativity.

The ability to understand the perspective of others is something we can all use. In addition, effective problem solving takes creativity, the ability to see situations with new eyes, analyzing the information available to us in ways that reveal its essence.

To paraphrase Albert Einstein, we can’t solve our problems with the same kind of thinking that created them. Bringing people together to effectively tackle problems like those related to the environment, poverty and injustice require both empathy and creativity.

So although my happiness increases greatly every time I look at my recent purchases, art is important in ways far beyond aesthetics. In fact, what it teaches is critical to the well being and diminished suffering of all of humanity.

Kimberly Barrett is the vice president of student affairs at the University of Montevallo.

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