In this episode of The Gentle Rebel Podcast, I sit down with artist Ben Cowan who kindly invited me into his kitchen for a chat about “Art That Makes You Think”. Through his visual satire, Ben adds dark and comedic twists to many of the familiar logos, brands, and packaging that have become part of our cultural furniture.
I first encountered Ben earlier this year at the Spark-Ignite symposium at the Royal Spa Centre in Leamington. He appeared on a panel called “Creativity Against The Odds” and shared his fascinating artist origin story. His philosophical outlook grabbed my attention, so I was keen to follow up and invite him onto the podcast.
Ben spent many years working as a disaster relief specialist in war-torn countries. He says that he found it hard to process what stood for ‘normal life’ when he returned. Without the urgent sense of physical threat, the threat of normal life took on a different form of existential threat. He describes this as a catalyst for him to create art that makes people think but also laugh.
Art That Makes You Think (and Laugh)
I often reflect on the role of art in our individual and collective lives. Sometimes, it needs to provoke and prod us out of numbing slumbers. It can teach us to feel, call us to action, and connect us with a deeper sense of meaning.
In recent years, I’ve noticed a tendency towards people creating art that tries telling us WHAT to think. Ben holds up a mirror to the propagandistic properties of art with an agenda.
He is inspired by Yuval Noah Harari, who talks about the Four C’s. Collaborate, Communicate, Critical Thinking, and Creativity, are core characteristics of a successful society. Art is a crucial part of engaging us in HOW to think. It helps us explore WHY we think what we think. And gives us awareness of the influences (and noise) that contributes to our beliefs and opinions, so we can hold them to more cast-iron scrutiny.
In our conversation, we discuss:
- The relationship between art and thought – what is “art that makes you think”?
- The role art plays in exploring ‘the good life’
- Our cultural and creative “elders” (figures who have had a profound long-term influence on us as artists and human beings)
- AI, creativity, and human connection
- Doppelganger – Naomi Klein’s book about the Mirror World
- The artist in each of us – the difference between the commercially viable self and the creatively curious self…is it possible to encounter ourselves outside of the capitalist system?
Explore Ben’s work through his website: www.artthatmakesyouthink.com. Check out his ‘Ideas Worth Wearing’ shop on Redbubble. Ben also writes a regular blog: BEN TALKS – Ideas Worth Sharing. Follow him on Instagram.