Winston Churchill once asked a most important
question, “What is society worth without poets and artists?” Over the last few
years, I have had many conversations with artist friends and mentees who have
the concern that it feels ‘selfish’ or ‘self-serving’ to make art in a world
with so many horrible things going on in it. I’m sorry to say that according to
history, the world always has and always will have horrible things going on in
it…but it has always had art as well. To fall into despair and want to fight
the wrongs is natural for all empathetic humans. But please don’t stop making
your art or beat yourself up for wanting to work in your studio rather than go
to a protest. The world is a fallen place and we need art now more than ever.
During the last year or so, I’ve asked workshop students what art does for the them, for the world and the following were the most popular answers. There are many such lists that answer this same question and I would suggest that when you feel the need to create protest signs in lieu of your art, read these lists! It will benefit you and lots of others as well.
- Asks Questions In my recent blog post article 3 Essential Art Evaluation Questions, I cite this and the next list item as one of the essential parts of a good work of art. In fact, I think the best art offers no answers but allows for further questions and good art asks both big and little questions. When considering questions in this respect, it’s not the literal asking, but the thought that counts.
- Expands Ideas Art provides an endless arena for experimental thoughts and ideas to enter our consciousness, both as a viewer and a maker. Just like asking questions without giving answers, it’s best not to spoon feed all thoughts and ideas right there in the work. Rather, allowing room for expansion of thought, discussion and even debate makes for the most interesting works.
- Health Benefits Don’t you feel good after working in your studio? Even if the work wasn’t going particularly well that day, you still feel like you’ve unloaded a burden. Well, there is actually a physical and physiological reason why you feel so good and it’s all in this interesting Business Insider article Why You Should Be Making Art Even If You’re Bad At It. If you stop making work because you feel bad about the state of the world, well, you’re only going to feel worse. So get into that studio, start feeling better and make the world a better place in the process!
- Create Beauty As serious artists, we aren’t supposed to mention ‘the B word’ these days. In fact, I’ve heard from a few curators if the word exists in your artist statement it knocks you down a few pegs. I’m a huge proponent of beauty in my own work as well as in the art I purchase. Ginny Ruffner is a well known artist who I have followed since grad school and whose life’s work has been focused on the idea and ideal of beauty. Also exploring the subject of beauty is the Ted Radio Hour Podcast, What Is Beauty? Each speaker makes the case for various kinds of beauty and that we may actually need beauty in our lives to survive. Denis Dutton is one of the speakers, whose work focused on beauty and why it’s actually essential to life. He states that the experience of beauty encourages us to make survival decisions by arousing and sustaining our interest…Beauty spurs us on simply by existing. Dutton also mentions a landscape structure that people all over the world universally consider beautiful. Artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid took this idea a step further by commissioning polling companies all over the world to conduct scientific research in order to derive what the public wanted to see in a work of art. The use of the poll was meant to mimic the democratic vote of the United States and to the make the point that if the general public could choose a president, why are they not a sufficient judge of art? The research data resulted in a series of paintings the two artists created of the ‘most wanted’ and ‘unwanted’ works of art, one of the most wanted is pictured at the top of this article. Also cited in the Ted Podcast is the inspiring story of Nathanial Ayers, the subject of the book and film, The Soloist, whose story serves as an excellent supporting example for why art and beauty is needed in the world.
- Spread Hope & Healing In my opinion, one of the most important components to a work of art and one I strive to include in my own. Sometimes we just need a place to escape to and don’t know how to get there. Art presents a vehicle in which to transcend to another time/place in order to reflect on the present. Hope is what is gained from these experiences and from hope comes healing.