While we live at a time when division is the norm; when biases and beliefs seem static and immobile; when hard science is debatable; when journalism is devalued; when humanity is stripped from those in cells, centers and shelters; when it’s all just too much to organize in our heads, art calls to the optimism within us and beckons us to breathe.
When I was invited to guest-edit this issue, TIME’s second special issue devoted to optimism, it was on a particularly dreary day. The national headlines were what we’ve come to expect: bigotry, poverty, injustice, trauma, trouble. I weighed my own feelings of despair and doubt against the idea of reveling in an experience dedicated to optimism. The choice was easy. I wanted to explore the other side. And so, working on this issue with the stellar team at TIME helped me to remember a simple truth: that prioritizing hope whenever possible is a brave and bold thing to do. In that way, this issue is a gift to me, a necessary reminder to grasp joy with both arms and embrace it like a great love.
In these pages, we explore not only the idea of optimism but its representation. The literal visibility of the proverbial bright side. To me, that is the job of art. To meet us where we are and to invite us in–to think, to feel, to wonder, to dream, to debate, to laugh, to resist, to roam, to imagine. Art is worthy of our interrogation and is in fact an antidote for our times. For the vital moment comes when we each must understand that the social, political and historical connectedness born of traumatic experiences can and should transform to true, elongated engagement with one another. Engagement not steeped in fear and separation, but in shared knowledge, recognition and contentment. Art instigates all of this.
In the issue, we celebrate and suggest ways that one can find inspiration in our present moment through the work of artists who carve a path for us all. Whether a filmmaker or a photographer, an author or an actress, a poet or a painter, these pages are filled with people who use art as a weapon for dynamic optimism. When we pivot from the perils of politics and power to the blade of grass, the note of music, the line of a novel, the expression on the screen, we breathe deeply and are revived. As the gifted theologian Howard Thurman once wrote: “Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.” Our goal here is for you to luxuriate in that lurking as we present the idea of optimism, hopeful progress and radical change through the appreciation of art.
Ava DuVernay, Guest Editor
To explore the Optimists issue, click here.