About a month ago, I discovered an amazing book about an amazing woman.
Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms is about the wonderful Chinese artist Lily Yeh, who has spent many years working with struggling children in inner-city Philadelphia, Rwanda, and China. Lily shows others how to use the arts to heal their own hearts and their communities as she works with them to beautify their environments.
Here is what the book is about in a nutshell:
“Internationally beloved artist and social pioneer, Lily Yeh, engages middle-school students, their teachers, and local elders in converting a barren factory space in Beijing, China, into the Dandelion School’s colorful, mosaic-covered youthscape.”
I was immediately grabbed by the extremely well-written foreword by Robert Shetterly, who summed up a service-oriented approach to creating art that resonates deeply with me: “Lily Yeh has rejected the model of artist vying with artist for gallery space and recognition. Instead she uses her talents to elicit art from distressed, depressed, and broken people in order to re-build community. Her art is for communal self-esteem and hope, for affirmation of the spirit rather than for commodity. It’s art born from a democratic and grassroots aesthetic and consciousness, the place where all real healing and change must begin. Accountable art.”
I was moved to tears as I read about Lily’s work in a village of survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Robert Shetterly described it like this: “It’s one thing to decry injustice, to expose trauma, to write a report that tells a true history. It’s another to witness a small Chinese-American woman, with an iron will, a bag of paint brushes, profound compassion, and unshakable belief that damaged people can heal themselves with their own art, come into a terribly depressed situation and begin to fix it–beginning with the irrepressible spirit of orphaned children. The children, in a sense, give re-birth to the adults, to adult hope and adult responsibility. After the art comes co-operative work, the will to heal, the will to start over.”
I know that I will revisit this book again and again for inspiration–I was so amazed by Lily’s ability to inspire so many people to work together in harmony, gradually transforming a cold, sterile environment into a warm and welcoming one. The students helped create exquisite mosaics all over the school, and they also were inspired to paint and to write poetry. I love the Dandelion School’s “Declaration of Creativity,” too:
Every location is a place for creativity.
Every day is a time for creativity.
Every human being is a person capable of creativity.
Let us strive head-on,
Even with two steps forward and one step backward.
While reading this wonderful book, I was reminded of a beautiful quote from the Bahá’í Faith about the purpose of art:
“Art, crafts and sciences uplift the world of being, and are conducive to its exaltation. Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words…”–Bahá’u’lláh
Far from seeking her own personal glory, or creating art that is simply meant to get attention or garner fame, Lily strives to create beauty in the world and to uplift souls. From the end of the book’s foreword: “William Sloane Coffin said, ‘The highest form of spirituality is justice.’ Lily’s art is in the pursuit of justice, and it raises everyone’s spirit. Her art insists on accountability–the artist to the community and then the community to itself.”
If you are interested in learning more about Lily Yeh’s work and art, you can visit barefootartists.org.