What Is Art?

May 19, 2015 § 4 Comments

saxton_toomucharttoomuchlove

After creating this poster for my Facebook pages, someone asked me to define art. You might think I’d have a ready answer, but no. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve given it much thought, which is equally surprising. I liked the question though, and what follows is an expanded (rather long-winded!) version of my reply:

Art has varied definitions, I suppose, depending on those doing the defining. As an artist myself, I didn’t always appreciate art, because it was “something I just did” ~ I didn’t consider it a statement or a dramatic emotional expression, or even that it might do something other than possibly give pleasure. I didn’t question why. I didn’t scheme about what I’d do with it. It was simply woven into my being. The same way I have hazel eyes and wild hair; it just is.

That said, my own leaning seems to have been to create art that represented, or imagined, or inspired beauty; even, perhaps, a sense of hope. But that’s me. I know that not all art reflects beauty ~ it may reflect a social condition or an intellectual or philosophical position; it may be confrontational; it may be humorous; it may be elegant or raw; it may be positively ugly to one, pure loveliness to another. It can be painted or crafted or performed; made by hand or machine or both. It can be abstract or figurative; coming from a deep well of spirit, a spark of consciousness, a passing thought or a well-formed concept. Its roots know no economic or cultural boundaries. It transcends, disturbs, balances. It’s a driving force, a balm, an evocateur. It’s so broad as to be nearly undefinable.

But what I’ve come to realize ~ surprisingly late in the game ~ is its value; that a world without art, a world lacking the creative expression that can touch souls in ways otherwise skirted, unseen, unfelt, or trapped, would be a much more dry, sterile place. If there were no paintings, no music-making, no dance, no story-telling, what a very different existence this would be. (The mere thought of its absence feels dark and repressive!)

Art is life, breathing. A passionate, textural experience in this business of being human. An extension of who we are, often with an unwitting power to affect others ~ to inspire, to explore, to uplift, and sometimes, even to heal.

We need it. We need it to buffer the madness; to soften realities or shape new ones. There are such seeds within art, able to plant tonics for the soul, heighten awareness, ignite hearts, raise vibrations. Art is record-keeping and diary-making broadcast from individuals to the world. Shouts in the wilderness, relief from chaos, a connection to the divine. It moves us. It’s entirely personal in origin and yet has the ability to somehow matter to others.  It does matter. It matters a lot.

However we define it.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”. ~Thomas Merton

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