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How can Art Inspire Compassion?

Written by Researcher Sung Jae Han

Seoul, August 2020

Art inspires passion. Art inspires action. Art inspires lives.

Not many people are aware of the influence that art can have on from individuals to social groups. A

piece of art could simply be a random combination of colors and spontaneous movement of brushes

on a white canvas to someone. But for another, the extraordinary moment of experience could

become a turning point in their life. Even the person who fails to become captivated would be inspired

by any other form of art. Then how does art have such a profound effect on people, and what makes

such a difference?



Art: The primitive desire of humans

The question about how people are inspired by art takes us to a journey to 17,000 years ago. The

oldest form of art that has been discovered is the wall painting. The world famous wall painting in

Lascaux cave, France contains various wall paintings that depict images of bulls, birds, humans,

horses, deers, and even rhinoceroses. Among those paintings, the most widely-known painting of the

aurochs attracts the hearts and minds of people all over the world.

Although the painting is drawn by primitive human beings millenniums ago, modern people are able to

appreciate it and understand the value of this work. What this presents to us, is that art has a value

that transcends time, language, border, and age. The answer is clear, humans always crave for new

creations and enjoy expressing what is in the mind. Anyone can imagine and dream of something, but

to materialize it and actually express it on a blank space is something different. In the process of

concretizing the idea, people experience an incomparable emotion of joy and accomplishment. After

witnessing a new world created, people enjoy the satisfaction. This sheer joy of creation is the value

that transcends time. This is why art can trigger such a big difference in people’s minds.

Compassion: The primitive emotion of humans

Mencius, a Chinese Confucian philosopher, takes a famous example to imagine a child drowning in

the water. Seeing the child drowning, people would feel worried and anxious, some would even dive

in to save the child. However, the emotion or action does not occur to ask for monetary rewards or

gain the fame of a courageous man. Such action or emotion is not learned or acquired. It is in the very

instinct of humans to feel anxiety and passion for the child in danger. Compassion is a quality humans

have from the moment of birth. 



Considering that art is a means of expression of the primitive desire of humans, art and compassion

are intimate companions. Not only does art start with compassion, but also compassion starts with art.

An interesting study shows how art and compassion works together.

“We All Do Good Things Project was an arts programme in three primary schools in Kent and Halifax

during the 2007/08 academic year. Professional arts practitioners led and coordinated distinct creative

activities in each school including writing stories, making comics, putting on performances, poetry and

music workshops. Through these art forms, children explored the meaning of kindness, shared kind

experiences and developed their own practical actions such as printing a kindness newspaper for the

local community, making smoothies for the local emergency services and creating radio programmes

for other schools.”

So basically, this project contained art workshops where children would stay focused on celebrating,

sharing, and encouraging. After the workshops, the University of Kent supported the completion of

questionnaires among pupils before the project, immediately after the project and one year after the

project. The questionnaires were answered by 169 pupils in years 1,3, and 5. Surprisingly, children

who took part in the project showed a significant increase in their willingness to help, share with and

care for others, even though it had been a year after the project had finished. Also, children learned

ways to represent sincerity and kindness through arts in deeper and more meaningful expressions.

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Researchers found that most children enjoyed participating in the project afterall. Most importantly,

when asked about what they had learned through the workshop, the answers focused on creative

skills, teamwork, struggling and overcoming challenges, and mastering goals rather than the concept

of kindness itself. Children had learned how to represent their sincerity and kindness in ways that 

were meaningful and developed greater depth over the course of the year. In the end, these art

workshops or children did have an effect on how children view the community and on the means of

expressing their kindness.


Art can come in various forms. They could be paintings, sculptures, statues, pictures, buildings, and

so on. The forms are limitless, and they affect our lives in numerous ways. Many people look up to

these various forms of art to gain inspiration and motivation. The free sliding of the paintbrush, the

flavorful mix of colors, and the delicate touch of the creative artist makes art such a wonderful tool to

express one’s compassion. There is no limit to how the artist’s compassion can be delivered to the

audience. But the value of the masterpiece heavily depends on the viewer’s capacity to reinterpret

and absorb the true meaning. Once he can feel art with his heart, he is ready to inspire others.

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