Universal Empathy

I always urge my students, in their process of creating original work from blank canvas, to first give themselves a structure. (Note that it does not matter what the structure is and you are not bound to the structure you start with. You can always change, as your ideas develop through your process). Artists work well within limitations. Limitations stimulate creativity. If we understand what our limitations are, there is freedom to be found in the space between.

Creativity is a process of making choices.

In helping students define their structure, I often urge them to commit their energies towards work that deals with themes that are universal in nature. Find that common experience. Work from that range of experiences that all people can understand and identify with. Communicate to that.

All of the great artists understand universality. If a work is to stand the test of time, it has to be rooted in universal thematic appeal.

People want to relate to the stories you are telling. We want to enable an audience to not just identify with a character, but also empathize with them. Empathy can be a very powerful audience experience.

Who does not feel something when thinking about forbidden love? I would guess that most people with any range of experience and awareness in life could identify with Romeo and Juliet.

Gustav Vigeland, Norway’s preeminent historical figure in sculpture, built an entire park, dedicated to universality. There are literally over 200 sculptures in and around this vast expanse of city space, which is, more or less, located right in the middle of the capital city of Oslo.  Vigeland Park is one of my very favorite parks to have visited in my travels. Check out some of these statues:

Who can’t identify with these emotions?

To create art with universality in mind, we must, as artists, have some degree of consciousness, of awareness of our selves. To be aware of oneself, one can create from what they know.

Creating from what you know, with a goal of communicating a universal experience in your art, you have the potential to affect a large number of people. And though we have not control over whether our work will last any time at all, following our respective deaths, you certainly increase your works’ odds, if the works’ appeal is broader than the fleeting fashion of our times.

All images (c) James Hart

Jim Hart is the founder of Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts, a new program for Entrepreneurial Arts Training.  www.austinconservatory.com


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