Art ~ A Personal Perspective
For an introduction to the 'Perspectives:' series, visit ~
What Is Art?
In this 'Perspectives:' series I most commonly take a conceptual approach to our topics, I ramble on (and on) about underlying philosophic constructions that give order and form to ideas like 'Loneliness', 'Vanity', and 'Knowing Your True Self'. But, not exclusively . . . I've also offered a rather personal take on a few of our 'Perspectives:' themes ('Gratitude', and last month's 'What Don't You Know'). This month's theme, 'Art', thrusts itself at me on both fronts, I am unable to drawn clear lines of distinction between art as an objective concept of human existence and as a very personal feature of my own life.
The photo to the right is me, as I am. Admittedly the lighting suggests a bit of, uh, solemnity or sternness, but I only wanted a factual representation of me, so (in the evening, with only the light from the computer screen) I moved my mouse to the camera button, looked at the lens, and clicked - this is me as I am, sitting here writing this . . . and, I am 6'2", have a deep & authoritative voice, and I have a very deliberate & sure manner about myself, and so 'intimidating' is the word frequently used when others describe me.
However, I have a very sensitive nature, I endlessly write poems trying to express my love for my wife, I cry watching Fred Astaire movies just because he's so good at what he does . . . years ago, when my size and appearance suggested a threat to unruly customers, I had to quit a job as a bouncer in a local bar because it was too heartbreaking for me to stand there at the door every night and witness so many miserable characters wasting their lives away.
The sketch to the right is how I see myself, inside . . . an easygoing storyteller, an independent soul who thinks too much and then spills all his thoughts out on any near enough to hear if they demonstrate even the slightest interest, as if each expression of an idea were treated as though it is music to the universe. Ideas become words, words can be presented as music, music gives us internal pictures - art starts with and comes from thinking, and, sort of from thinking too much.
Not everyone is an artist, some folks are occupied with the business of life . . . busy catching busses, busy hearing and passing on the latest scandal, busy escaping fear or boredom, busy making ends meet. Artists, it seems to me, are those people who too often miss their bus, who just cannot be interested by the latest scandal, who are busy searching for truth and beauty, who can't stop thinking about things others are too busy to think about, or have no interest in.
. . . but what is art?
Rather than being prompted with a dictionary definition of art, I am going to share my own sense of what art is, hopefully, a more operational, 'as we all have to deal with it' idea of what art is. For me, at it's first step, art is an expression of feeling through the means of some manner of instrumentality . . . one person creates something with color and shape, another person with phrases, another with melody, etc, and others sense or apprehend his feelings. Now, I do think the 'feelings' part is essential to art, but ability or talent is as well. Someone, anyone, can easily take pencil to paper and offer their rendition of a horse, but do the rest of us see a horse, or a bear or a sheep or we don't know what - is that art? Anyone can say 'I drew a picture of a horse', that is informative - but is that statement poetry? Anyone can start singing a random series of notes in the form of 'horses are beautiful, some are brown and they all have four legs' - is that music?
Some people, not everyone, can paint a picture of a horse that gives the viewer a sense of strength and even freedom or ideas like fortitude or gallantry. Some people can write a poem or essay on horses that can stir the reader emotionally rather than merely inform him. And some people can perform music provoked by an appreciation of horses that can rouse the listener and produce feelings . . . the same feelings the painter, writer, musician had that inspired his work. For me, that's what art is, or does - it communicates what one person feels to another. I can tell you how beautiful I think my wife is, and you would then know I think my wife is beautiful, you would have that piece of information - but if I paint a portrait of my wife, write a poem about my feelings for her, sing a song celebrating our love, etc, then you could feel my feelings, you could apprehend a sense of the emotional truth of the informative 'my wife is beautiful'.
But this then introduces the 'objective' or 'subjective' argument about art - is there a measurable definition of art, or is art in the eye of the beholder? This, I confess, still puzzles me. Certainly the theme song to the tv show 'Three's Company' is not music in the same sense that Eric Clapton's tortured love song 'Layla' is music. Certainly there is an artistry envisioned, strived for, and present in ' Please don't say we'll never find a way, And tell me all my love's in vain' that is not envisioned or strived for or present in 'Where the kisses are hers and hers and his, Three's company too', and musically, melody-wise and performance-wise, it must be commonly agreed that there is an artistry in Clapton's vocals & guitar playing that makes it a different thing altogether from that sitcom jingle. Yet . . .
If art is the communication of emotion, if the work of an artist is to share with his audience his feelings about something, if he is expressing some inner sense he has of something through painting or poetry or music, etc, then isn't the worth, the artistry of a thing the degree to which it moves it's audience? If I play a recording for African bushmen of a Rossini overture and they get nothing from it, but if I play a recording of Benny Goodman and they laugh or cry or have some significant emotional reaction, then isn't Benny Goodman the superior art? If generations from now people look at da Vinci's Mona Lisa with indifference but wonder and are thrilled by the graffiti of an unknown street vandal, who is the superior artist, who has given something he feels within himself to those who view his work?
This is why concepts like love, beauty, and art, resist definition - because they are universally recognized and understood in one sense and so privately appreciated and esteemed in another sense. Art is the handiwork, the consequence, of conveying a universally known emotion to others very personally . . . it's a common language of private feelings.
. . . so, in practice ~
The crucial aspect of all this, for me, is that we encourage and cultivate and appreciate art. That we participate in the artist's, or artistic, endeavor, either by practicing our own art, our own expression of our own feelings, or by very actively enjoying and learning from and celebrating the art of others. As my children were growing-up, we had 'family night' on Fridays . . . that meant the kids, in rotation, got to choose the meal for that night, we all played a game together, and we did art. The "did art" meant, one Friday we would all listen to Gershwin, the next Friday I would have them each write a poem, the next week we would listen to Hendrix or Chopin or John Lee Hooker, the next week I'd have them draw or paint a picture, the next week we'd watch 'Rashomon' or 'Taxi Driver' or 'Bringing Up Baby', etc, etc.
Today, each of my (6) kids knows what they like and why they like it - one loves Sam Cooke another loves Louis Prima another loves The Who, one loves French Neoclassical Painter Jacques-Louis David and another loves DC comic book artist Murphy Anderson, etc, etc. And one culmination of this attention to sharing and celebrating art; the photo at the top of this page is Mickey Jr, when he was studying Art History in Venice.
This month's other 'Perspectives:' ~
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