The art of everything: creativity’s social roles


Writing on how we can find real moments of artful living in the everyday, Shireen Qudosi shares a measure by which we can value beauty, strength and love in life’s simple things.

Lubna Kabir
Lubna Kabir

Scrolling through my Instagram account, I see a stream of nauseatingly perfect images. These pictures aren’t expressions of an inner self; they’re not raw images of both beautiful and chaotic moments in time. Instead, they’re moments stolen from serendipitous existence, manufactured to perfection. In the process, they rob us of a natural opportunity to experience our own existence for ourselves. A theft of experience, if you will. We’re so busy taking photos like these that we often fail to experience the life they’re meant to depict.

How have we become a society that so values creativity and innovation while being further removed from art than at any other period in recent history?

It’s difficult to identify an exact reason. I would say that an overabundance of selfies is a desperate attempt to grasp ‘the self’. In vain, we hope that capturing ourselves on camera with flawless perfection will help us to create a more unified sense of self.

Or could we blame how easy it is to live a secondhand life, an empty echo of reality spread across social media pages whose filtered images purport to express ourselves and our experiences?

Perhaps the increased demands on our attention so overwhelm us that visual “sound bytes” are simply an easier way to catalogue modern life.

Art as love

From the perspective of a mother and a writer, I understand these demands. Just last night my husband and son were watching a spectacular show of fireworks from our front yard, while a not-so-little voice in my head kept saying, “Stop working. Go enjoy this.”

So I did. But I didn’t watch the fireworks. Instead, I beheld the kaleidoscope of expressions that danced across the face of my three-year-old son. I watched my husband struggle to adjust and readjust the burgeoning weight of an excited toddler on his shoulders.

And for a moment I was at peace.

My son, Azi, creating his latest form of expression
My son, Azi, creating his latest form of expression

Art is about more than just a pretty picture; it’s a universal medium to quiet the mind. It reflects life, about how we interpret it and how we choose to live it.

That night, in the front yard, was a moment of living art.

There are countless forms of art. Prose that interprets the world is but one. At times that form suffices, and I’m happy with putting the artistic interpretation of my thoughts into rhythmic language.

At other times I turn to photography or crafting, or appreciating the art of others. I enjoy watching my little one joyfully express himself with paint. Creating an artistic environment at home gives me peace, fosters moments of inspiration and puts them proudly on display.

Art as beauty

Lubna Kabir, a young artist set to study art this autumn at Columbia University, feels that art is about finding beauty. In a conversation about her haunting self-portrait titled Tears of a Profound Nature, Lubna shares her thoughts on what that piece means to her:

Tears of a Profound Nature, a self-portrait by Lubna Kabir
Tears of a Profound Nature, a self-portrait by Lubna Kabir

I believe that an eye for beauty is one of the best skills that a person can develop. To be able to find the beauty in all things is not easy, however. Often, in difficult situations we must strain our eyes to see the beauty of what has occurred; we must let tears fall from our eyes and wash away everything that obstructs our view of this beauty. We may cry tears of sadness, tears of anger, tears of joy and tears of pain. No matter what emotion colours our lives and our tears at any specific moment, we learn something from each one of them. Our tears wash away the dirt on the surface of the lens that helps us see life. Tears of a Profound Nature underlines the importance and equality of all emotions in a person’s life.

Tears of a Profound Nature completely captivated me. It playfully yet ambiguously pairs tears with the hint of a smile. Yet what draws me to the piece is how Lubna, an effortlessly stunning beauty, depicts herself with complex layers of paint and colours that straddle darkness and light. It’s not how I see her, but how she sees herself – there’s beauty in that fragility.

Art as activism

Zaineb Zeb Khan
Zaineb Zeb Khan

The heart of an artist is never in what they paint so much as why they paint it. Visual artist Zaineb Zeb Khan finds art as a bridge to activism. Her oil on canvas painting, titled Mother Teresa, was used to help raise funds for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Inspired by Mother Teresa as a symbol of humility and generosity, Zaineb draws artistic inspiration from the iconic figure’s words, as well as her belief in the importance of the small things in life.

Zaineb’s Mother Teresa painting helped raise funds for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project
Zaineb’s Mother Teresa painting helped raise funds for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project

Immersed in the art world for more than 15 years, Zaineb creates raw depictions of strong enduring women. Her subjects struggle but push on; with quiet grace they endure what others could not imagine. For Zaineb, these images are a reflection of her own identity. “My life is one devoted to self-expression,” she says. “It is the theme that underlies my passions and my struggles as an artist, an activist and a humanitarian.”

She continues, “Art is a metaphorical representation of what cannot be seen.”

For Zaineb, art is about activism; for Lubna, it is about beauty; for me, it is about love.


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