The Amazing Story Of How One Of The Most Famous Trumpet Players In The World Changed America

If you've ever sung your favorite song at the top of your lungs in the shower or read your favorite book a thousand times, you understand the pure joy art can bring to each of our lives. But with all of the personal pleasure we get from art, it's easy to forget the massive role it has played — and continues to play — in shaping our society for the better.

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Sarah Lewis: One of the reasons that I love writing about the arts, curating work is not even so much that you're able to honor one person's expression and pay tribute to that but because of how much it can shift things in us. Frederick Douglass, during the civil war, surprised his audience when he spoke about this idea, you know. His idea was it wouldn't be combat that would get America to have a new vision of itself but pictures, right? "Pictures," he said, "and the thought pictures that they create in the mind are the way that we can kind of slip in the backdoor of our rational thought and see the world differently." I love that. His speech was called "Pictures and Progress" and then he re-titled it "Life Pictures." And then as I came across the speech, I thought, "This is why I do what I do."

How many movements when one person's work, one song, one impactful aesthetic experience shifted things entirely for a leader, for a group of people? The environmental movement really catalyzed and began when we saw that Earth rise image taken from the Apollo 8 and we saw that our world was in an environment that we needed to honor. Or think about the way that Brown v. Board of Education would not have had Charles Black there, the constitutional lawyer, if he hadn't seen Louis Armstrong perform that night in 1931 in Austin, Texas and in that moment say to himself, "Well, there is genius coming out of this man's horn. And if there is genius in this black man then segregation must be wrong," and to know in that moment that he was walking towards justice, as he put it when he describes what got him to be on the Brown v. Board of Education case.

There's so many examples where really, aesthetic force more than rational argument alone has been what has shifted and turned the time in the face of massive injustice. So I think of the arts as far more than just a respite from life, a kind of a luxury. I see it as a galvanic force, really, that undercurrents some of our most impactful changes and movements in this country and in this world.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

I first saw this video on Colorlines. Curator, historian, and author Sarah Lewis recorded this piece for Big Think. Lewis is doing innovative work to bridge the gap between art and social policy. To keep up with her, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Posted By:
Erica Williams Simon

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