Rotary Speech Competition – Art is Life – Final

Our environment is on the verge of collapse. Isn’t this the truth? Some of the greatest developments of the last 50 years, technology with its social media, mass communication, accessible information and Artificial Intelligence have stripped us of our sense of connectedness and belonging. The top 1% of the wealthy owned 82% of the global generated income last year, that’s equivalent to 42 of the world’s richest people, 9/10 being men – by the way, owning more than the poorest 50% of people worldwide who are barely able to scrape together enough to eat. Where did we go wrong?

As a person living in 2018, with a few years still up my sleeve, I have a vision for the future that does not mean repeating failures of the past. I have a vision that we will live in a world where people possess the ability to reflect and critique on the world around them; where we are able to express our individuality and diversity with confidence and are able to respect others for theirs; where we strive to immerse ourselves in a life rich with creativity and connectedness to those around us.

There is a solution to this. It is deceptively simple. It is the arts.

I want to start by asking you a question: What does a 5 year old need to thrive? You are probably thinking about things like unconditional love and support, a sense of belonging, food and shelter, education, freedom… Is it a coincidence that some of the very first things we teach children are things like colouring in, dancing and singing? And is it any coincidence that the life of a five year old is filled with joy, love and a desire to learn?

With that in mind, I want to ask you another question: What does a 50 year old need to thrive? Are you still thinking about things like unconditional love and support, a sense of belonging, food and shelter, education, freedom…not entirely – things like financial stability, a secure job and the mortgage being paid off  also spring to mind, and to be fair, children do not have such worries, but is it a coincidence that 50 year olds dance and sing less, are less capable of innovative ideas and in general are less happy than a 5 year old? Is it a coincidence that in New Zealand the second highest age group for suicide is 45-50 year olds? And with male suicides nearly tripling that of the female population? What went wrong? What have we replaced our artistic expression with that has resulted in a society that is lacking in joy and inspiration.

The answer to this epidemic lies in education. Our preconceived idea about intelligence has lead to an education system that values knowledge over creativity and which is ruled by a scheme of testing and conformity that has stifled the creative impulse in our society. Our current education system is failing us, plain and simple. Is it fair that we push our students into academic careers when what the world needs is creative solutions to our most pressing crises?

It’s not about teaching the arts, it’s about teaching through the arts. Let me elaborate on this for you. What I propose is to incorporate the arts into all aspects of learning. For example, take any subject you like, perhaps maths. Now imagine being in a class where you are not only taught complex algebra and how to extrapolate data but in a way which the content is presented through the principles of the arts. Imagine being able to look at an equation and marvel at the complexity of the algorithms and patterns and then see how these relate to aspects of biology in nature and physics in the universe.  Creating theses connections between subjects through the principles of the arts allows for more stimulating material that engages students in their learning.

The arts will also allow us to confront some of our greatest fears. The fear of the ineffable: life and death. Art is arguably the most human of human endeavours, and it’s only through art that we can come close to making sense of the world around us; why we are here, why we exist when in reality there is no meaningful answer. We possess the gift of virtuosity which allows us to enjoy the simple things in life as well as finding beauty in the complexity and obscurity of our universe.

I imagine a future where we all call ourselves artists. It’s time to move forward into a new generation of thinking. The mathematicians and scientists have had there time but now it is up to us to make the change.

This is your life, and I hope you find the time to dance.