Yes and no. The answer to this question obviously depends on your very own idea of what a ”happy life” entails. Having said that, I certainly think that art is unique in the way it can enrich our lives.
Humans are cultural beings and art is an age-old phenomenon that has chronicled and shaped our human experiences over time. So, art is part of all of our lives. Art reflects cultural values and beliefs that were, or, to a certain extent, may still be, part of our society. If we go through life without cultivating awareness of art, we are basically looking at life in a simple-minded way because we might never discover the many sides of our culture and history. A richer understanding of history enables us to be more critical of contemporary events and makes us more sensitive to cultural phenomena that we would otherwise oversee. How do we perceive other cultures and in what terms do we define our own? Reflecting upon questions like these allows us to lead a more mindful life.
Art may not solve problems, but it can draw attention and provoke a conversation about existing problems. An example is the latest installation piece by Ai Weiwei: a gigantic inflatable boat with 258 over-life-size figures sitting in it. This installation is currently on display in the exhibition entitled Law of the Journey in the National Gallery in Prague and its reception is rather controversial. The refugee crisis is a highly debated subject in the Czech Republic, as in many other European countries, and so does Ai Weiwei’s radical attempt to reconstruct the enormity of the human tragedy of the present moment provide a (physically) inevitable reason to have a conversation. Overall, the exhibition Law of the Journey not only forces us to see the present-day crisis, but it alludes to the human tragedies of the past.
Whether art makes us engage in contemporary subjects such as the refugee crisis, or, discuss issues of discrimination based on gender, race, or religion, meeting art is a learning possibility. The key is to take the time to reflect upon art and think about the message it may convey. But it does not necessarily have to be contemporary art for this matter. The ruthless paintings by Otto Dix, for instance, are still relevant and can be viewed as a warning sign of the catastrophic consequences that war inevitably has.
Thus, yes. Art, like nothing else, can help us cultivate awareness, have rich experiences, and lead a mindful life. And are these not, after all, key ingredients for living a “happy life”?