What is art? And should we even care?
Is art therapy? This is a question I’ve been kicking around since college. I think there is a general perception that art is a form of therapy. Something you do to soothe the demons of the brain. An outlet for pain.
Or is merely the act of making art therapeutic to the creator because he finally stops resisting the innate urge of creation? The resistance which causes the misery. I think this may be closer to the truth. I always hated the argument that art was therapy because it presupposed that the act of creating art as fixing some sort of imbalance. That art is a symptom of madness. No one knows for sure. Maybe it’s a distant cousin.
Is art necessary? Ask the average guy on the street. Let him think about that word: necessary. He’ll think about his necessities: food, shelter, gas. He will probably say no. He may be right.
What is necessary for us to function? Once you get past the basics of survival—food, shelter, relative freedom from danger, things get pretty fuzzy. We need roads. We need buildings. We need skills to create the tools to live the modern life. But what about the next step? What is moving us forward as a society? What is giving us roadmaps to living a life of meaning? I believe art can do that. It can also be a piece of shit. But the vast majority of us in this country are beyond day to day survival. So maybe art is more relevant that we think.
Is art quantifiable? Does it have a value or impact that can be measured? Is it something that can be compared? Can we stack it up to the “necessities” of life? Can we judge the value of one art form over another?
This is America, so we tend to value things based on their monetary value. Tell someone you are a painter and they think “that’s nice”. Tell them your last painting sold for ten grand and they look at you completely differently. The money is validation. Artists are guilty of this perception too. They may not admit it out loud, though.
The older I get, the broader my definition of “art” becomes. I used to think of it as the cliche: A struggling beatnik painter working away on his masterpieces that noone will appreciate till long after he dies. Then it becomes valued. Then it’s worth millions that he never gets to enjoy. It’s a simplistic, narcissistic, even pessimistic view. But I bet it’s a fairly common view.
Now I know the truth. The preacher is an artist. The entrepreneur is an artist. The programmer is an artist. The engineer is an artist. The leader is an artist. Art is simply any one thing we do which moves us forward. Which reinvents the world. Or that which reminds us of age old truths that we have forgotten.
Yes. We should care about art. Yes. We should be artists. Now get to work. The world’s not going to improve itself.