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Sarah Lewis

Bestselling author; Curator; Assistant Professor at Harvard University

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New York, USA


Vision & Justice
Can art today bring about the catalytic social change that it has in the past? What is the role of the artist in shifting our perceptions, shattering biases, and creating the world we want? More than ever, we are inundated with images. Awash in them. Yet the artist alone has the power—through one iconic image, one profound gesture—to help focus our attention on what truly matters. In a bold new talk, Sarah Lewis makes a lucid and original case for art as a lever to social justice and cultural transformation. “The endeavor to affirm the dignity of human life cannot be waged without pictures,” she has written. “To be an engaged global citizen right now requires visual literacy.” Gathering in various threads—art history, technical innovation, race, photography, the story of America, and a deeply personal narrative—Lewis takes us to a place of deeper contemplation and understanding. She celebrates individual artists, invokes the collective imagination, and helps us see afresh both what is there, right in front of us, as well as what could be.
Visual Literacy for Marketers
Suddenly, and quite publicly, visual literacy has become a hotly-discussed topic in marketing. Carelessly borrowing imagery from the wider culture risks accusations of being tone-deaf, out of touch. The examples pile up daily. If you produce anything visual—photography, video, social media, corporate identities—there is a new challenge. How do you create iconic images while sidestepping controversy? How do you ensure your work is not called-out for a lapse in judgement, but rather for positive associations? To Harvard historian and art curator Sarah Lewis, our turbulent political moment requires “an advanced state of visual literacy.” Companies now require the ability to decode symbols and navigate the complexity of contemporary politics with savvy and empathy. Showing that you are engaged with the world, she writes, “requires grappling with pictures, and knowing their historical context with, at times, near art-historical precision.” In this sweeping talk, based on her award-winning work around “Vision and Justice,” Lewis discusses how even the casual consumer is now an expert critic: an engaged citizen who knows how to parse authenticity. Lewis answers the central questions brands must grapple with to pierce our media-saturated culture and reach audiences in a genuine way. How do we celebrate, rather than steal or appropriate, the work of artistic creators? How can we invoke the past with reverence and respect? And how might we imbue our calls to action with a sense of real gravity? With Lewis, audiences learn how to truly read, appreciate, and intelligently disseminate images—images that are arresting, convincing, persuasive, but also moral and just. This is an eye-opening, deeply moving, and wholly pragmatic look into the true force that images can play in our culture.
The Rise: Creativity and the Search for Mastery
Where do new innovations—new ideas—spring from? It’s an enduring enigma, but, in this exquisite talk, Sarah Lewis offers a new understanding of what enables creative endeavors. What really drives iconic, transformational change on both a personal and an organizational level? From Nobel Prize–winning discoveries to new inventions to works of art, many of our creative triumphs are not achievements, but conversions. Drawing on figures such as Frederick Douglass, Angela Duckworth, J. K. Rowling, and others, Lewis reveals the importance of play, grit, surrender, often ignored ideas, and the necessary experiments and follow-up attempts that lead to true breakthroughs. Smart, uplifting, and counterintuitive, this keynote will help change the way you think about creativity, innovation, and mastery: the path to success, Lewis notes, is often more surprising than we expect.


Sarah Lewis - Embrace the near win
Sarah Lewis - How Images Shape Our Understanding of Justice