Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Artists are Agents of Negentropy

As part of my professional education and ongoing research, I’m fortunate to be permitted to audit George Sampson and Lindsey Hepler’s class on the Arts and Public Policy in the Architecture School at the University of Virginia. This post, and others in the series are reaction to our readings and discussions.

There are so many amazing ideas and topics that come up in this class. In just the first week’s reading and discussion I feel like I’ve uncovered a lifetime of food for thought. We’re looking at the search for meaning through experience and the process of creation. What tools and resources strengthen a life, a community or a nation? Ideal topics for a community-based artist on a mission.

The course looks at art through two main lenses: contemplation and expression and the first week has focused on the former. We spoke briefly with our neighbors about a contemplative approach and came together on the ideas that it is an active, conscious and intentional centering exercise that opens, cleanses and illuminates. Useful life skills in addressing the contradictions that weigh every decision.

We’re moving past a Twentieth Century that sought to cure the world’s ills (and caused more than it's share) by trying to identify dysfunctions and eliminating them. The new approach is a positive paradigm that desires to build and nourish. A positive paradigm is holistic (instead of zeroing in a syndrome) and seeks to grow the entity far past its baseline. It’s about potential instead of limitations and on this ground, Art is a potent force.

One of our texts, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studies ways to optimize experience and find meaning, appreciation (and yes power) in all domains. The section we read talks about how to reconcile differentiation and integration on all levels from the deeply personal to the whole social. It defines meaning as purpose, intention/resolution and organization/harmony.

In a complex world, this is difficult and it is not obvious how best to reconcile competing and sometimes oppositional ideas—not only from different points of view but within a single individual. How do we keep our thoughts organized and positively employed? Yet we must if we are to thrive.

Perspective is key: what matters is how we perceive each of our circumstances and our ideas about what they mean go a long way toward whether they limit us or not. In fact, our circumstances actually empower us if we can be smart about where we go from them.

As I read, Csikszentmihalyi dropped a term that stopped me in my tracks and illuminated many things. He cites the word negentropy, which I had never heard before but which is supremely powerful.

The reverse of entropy, negentropy is the force that brings things together, establishes order where there was none. For example, Wikipedia, states that Life itself is a negentropic force:
Life is considered to be negentropic because it takes things in less order, like dead food, and turns it into things in more order, like cells in the body, tissues, and organs.
This is also what the artist does: gathers ideas, sounds, visions, etc and produces something new, coherent and perhaps even astonishing. Art is a negentropic tool and, when drawing from a shared heritage provides valuable insight into how to order the often baffling chaos that surrounds us all. So art is a search for the organizational structure for life itself.

The artist is an agent of negentropy: a bringer of perspective who offers insights that allow us to bridge experience and intention and move forward toward our maximum potential. It is part of our human makeup and available to everyone. It's good for the artist and good for the audience.

That is certainly a Positive Paradigm!

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