America Matters Muslim Matters Why Art Matters

By Shireen Qudosi

Growing up with South Asian parents, you quickly come to realize that by five years of age, your parents typically have your entire career planned out for you. Usually, that career falls into one of three categories: doctor, lawyer, or engineer.

I think we can all agree that idea needs to die, and instead we need to embrace our child’s individuality and their natural talent and passions. That is why, when I see my six-year-old son show an affinity and immense talent for art, I want to do everything I can to encourage his artistic gift. But I’m also thinking about more than just my child’s personal development, I’m thinking about how the world will need his talent.

I’m a mom to a child that might end up being Muslim and inherit the same challenges I face when it comes to integration and acceptance. But more than that, I’m a mom to a child who will inherit the world and all the complex problems it carries. Preparing children for these problems is the greater duty parents have when raising the next generation of humans.

For me, art plays a key role in developing hearts and minds that can think creatively in order to solve problems in new ways. Art allows for reinterpreting, reimagining and re-shifting perspectives. All three of these are vital if we’re going to raise children who can adopt alternative viewpoints without losing their individuality. Being able to reimagine is also crucial to really understanding what it must be like to walk in someone else’s shoes. You cannot problem solve with meaning and purpose unless you fully understand the problem and, in some way, have experienced the problem yourself.

Importantly, experience builds empathy. Art is a conduit that allows us to ground our ideas meaningfully, because in some way we’ve lived a certain experience. Consider a movie that really changed how you thought about an issue or the world. That movie was able to cultivate compassion within you because it shared a world with you, and you were able to experience that world fully without resistance because moving art kept you engaged.

But art is more than just pictures; art is and is in everything. Whether we’re talking about visual arts, sculptures, films, music, or the humanities, art is the most powerful weapon on earth for ideological shifts. Whether we’re trying to break old systems or create new pathways, use of art is the quickest way of getting there.  
Whether art fosters sensitivity or makes a space for sensitive people, we need more art in this world now more than ever. Art is a doorway to the values that support progress, innovation and advancement. More importantly, art is the most common language that crosses any lingual or cultural barrier. In an era where differences among people are a constant source of conflict, art can absorb these differences and align our principles—and that is truly beautiful.