People want to live with art. Why? It’s impractical, expensive, no apparent essential function, and if another human made it surely I could too if I really tried. So why does it matter?
For the same reason we want to read poetry or listen to music made by someone else, or go on a hike or look at stars. We want to connect to other humans, to their creativity and imperfection. We want to be reminded our complexity and value, and at the same time our smallness relative to time and space. We want to be “inspired”, which means, to receive the breath (life) of someone else, like spiritual CPR.
Today I heard another artist describe her life on a naval ship, and the thrill of coming into port and experiencing beauty again- in the way food is made, clothes are worn, spaces are decorated and designed. The void she felt in a hyper-practical, functional space was stark and showed her the value and meaning in art.
I notice such a difference with a piece of art made by an artist vs. mass produced in a big box store. I think about the artist when I look at it, about their process, about their history. I relate and connect.
In college I learned a lot about the value of fiction that has helped me in my understanding of visual art. Fiction is like parable- it’s more powerful because it’s indirect. It’s not didactic. It’s the difference between getting a linear outline describing the meaning of life, or love, or suffering versus experiencing someone’s story of the same. Art is story, it’s fiction.
Art is also liturgy. Art is a spiritual practice, a physical act representing a spiritual reality. Christians immerse their bodies under water, wearing a white robe, incense floating through the air, on a particular day of the calendar, as a physical representation of a spiritual experience they’ve had. Catholics count beads on rosaries, buddhists breathe and chant and hold positions, hindus draw colorful descriptive images and carry objects, witches light sage, and Jews eat horseradish off a special plate. These are all art, or perhaps art is a spiritual ritual.
When we buy art, we participate. This participation may connect us to an artist’s concept, or to the craft, or to the beauty of the materials, or to the process. Some artists want you to know and feel what they meant and felt. Other artists want you to have your own experience, to create your own liturgical practice.
The reason I’ve been ruminating on this is that although I’m an artist, my culture growing up did not include a lot of fine art. My family lived with and understood music and craft, but art is not something we ever paid for or saw people around us paying for. I haven’t been around a lot of people who buy art. We visited the art museum growing up, but our understanding and engagement stopped with observing the skill of the work. The idea of investing in a piece of art the price of a used car would have blown our minds and sent us into a long rant about how silly that was.
The more I’ve understood art, the more I’ve valued it. Artists tend to be prolific art buyers, because even though many don’t have a lot of disposable income, they prize it for it’s ability to connect, to breathe life and to become a part of their practice of connecting to the things that are unseen and cannot be accurately described in word.