By Bailey Meyers
Art by Neeku Salehi
We need more interactive art. Something therapeutic and uncomfortable. A milieu where we can explore our own thoughts as well as the point of view of others. UCLA is surprisingly devoid of agitative art despite the prevalence of other art forms on campus, including the asymmetrical yet artful construction of Royce and the tranquil sculpture garden.
A truly provocative piece takes the person hearing/watching/seeing it and makes them do a double-take. On Bruinwalk, we, the Bruin Review, tried to make art into an interactive thought experiment. Inspired by interactive street artist Candy Chang’s Before I Die… boards and Confessions art installations, I led a team in constructing and exhibiting a board that displayed the prompt “I Believe…” and asked students to share their beliefs with the community. The mission of this project was to inspire a conversation among UCLA students. Maybe there were points of view that resonated with them, and maybe they saw something they vehemently opposed. Either way, passersby could ruminate on these responses and add their own beliefs to the mix. Responses ranged from silly to heartfelt to political — a testament to the ambiguity of the prompt. This was intentional. We wanted to allow participants to express themselves not only on issues of grave importance to the modern world but also on trivial matters, as was scrawled on the wildly controversial note, “pineapple belongs on pizza.”
Other responses included the following beliefs: Free college is economically impossible; God; Palestine should be free; Israel is real; Karma; Econ is not South Campus; We see race even if we say we don’t; Organized religion is the root of all evil; Things will get better; I’m gonna be late to physics lol; In myself.
Think about the last time you were truly struck by art. It’s amazing how a single piece, sometimes as simple as a single figure, can create such an intense experience for a person. Michaelangelo’s The Creation of Adam did it, as did Banksy’s Girl With a Balloon, and so do thousands of other works around the world. Another of Candy Chang’s projects, entitled Sidewalk Psychiatry, is comprised simply of questions stenciled on the sidewalks of New York City. “Do you think that went well?” and “Does she know how you feel?” are two examples of the provocative public art installations. Though simple, this type of art begs anyone and everyone walking by to reflect on their lives.
The I Believe… board was a success at UCLA, but why stop there? There is so much happening in students’ busy days that they often don’t have time to sit and think. Art can provide a context for reflection. The boards that we created were a deliberate experiment in self-exploration. Introspection is a powerful tool; by searching inside ourselves, we can become more aware of our outlook upon the world, which can influence our future decisions. We can see the biases we hold and the life events that led us to our gut reactions to the piece. After seeing the path to one’s own point of view, the perspectives of others become more comprehensible. This is a reason for placing the I Believe… board on Bruinwalk. The board was not a place to exalt the loudest voices, but one to make people think deeply about their inner feelings and views while becoming cognizant of the ideas of others.
We need to install and disseminate more art on campus to create a more free-thinking and self aware student body. Imagine Banksy’s critiques on British culture catered to the campus life of UCLA. You can find thought-provoking stimuli now, with activists and religious groups crowding Bruinwalk, but something is missing. It is not contemplative and beautiful like a poem or the Mona Lisa but is rather a hubbub to be shouldered past while smushing AirPods into ears.
Much like the Bruinwalk hawkers, public art on campus may go unnoticed. Allowing, or even forcing, students to analyze an issue from an artistic perspective can be tremendously helpful for their thought processes. By giving them another angle that is neither textual nor data-based, students would be able to gain a more complete and emotionally nuanced view of certain issues and topics. This does not necessarily mean that we should be forcing paper maché and Crayola markers into the fists of college students, but that we should offer ways for students to engage with deep thought through art. Perhaps this means a chance to create a sketch instead of answering a short answer question or the creation of poetry as a response to a text. These outlets for creativity are seldom found at UCLA, a university where one must be enrolled as an art major or minor to take an intro class on drawing or painting.
In order to embrace a more holistic and reflective education at UCLA, we need to incorporate art into multiple aspects of students’ edification, both inside the classroom and sprinkled around campus. For the moment, the best we can do is to appreciate the art that we do have. Next time you see or hear something beautiful, stop and think about it, busy schedule or not.