Why is art important? As I’ve pondered this question, I’ve realized there is no way I can depersonalize my answer. I honestly can’t say why art is important to another but I can express my experience. I would love to get your thoughts on the subject and, as with the earlier question about what art is, I’ve asked some of my artist friends to play with the idea as well and I’ll be posting their views this week on Thursday and Friday.
One day while working in a semi-public studio, a woman I didn’t know came in to look around. There was a painting on the floor, leaning against the wall, a commissioned portrait I’d just completed. This woman stopped in front of the painting, put her hand up to her mouth, turned away from the piece and began to cry. The woman in the painting was estranged from her family and had suffered from mental illness and severe depression her whole life. While painting the portrait, although I’d never met its subject, I felt a deep connection to her and I wept. I tell you this story to illustrate my belief that we can’t help but put energy into the artworks we make and I believe this same energy lives in the piece and is released to its viewer. How many of you have felt inexplicable emotion in the presence of a painting, a sculpture, a photograph? We’ve all been moved by music, a play, or poem. Art often holds within it a mysterious power that can’t be explained or quantified.
Over the years I’ve stripped away much that was not necessary, living more and more simply, in order to build the kind of life that supports making my art. What has not been simple, though, is finding the faith that is required to live each day within the uncertainty of an artist’s life. I think more than any other aspect of being an artist, the necessity of practicing hope has forced me to go deep, to be conscious of the path I walk.
William deBuys writes in The Walk, “… he clung to a species of hope that was based not on an expectation of outcome… but on a visceral faith that good inhered in what he was doing, that it was intrinsic, and that because of it, what he was doing was right and necessary whether it succeeded or not.” This “species of hope” of which deBuys speaks is a fundamental part of my life and, as a result, ends up in the art I make. It is a pure expression of believing. And I think our society hungers for it.
deBuys also says, “In the darkest times we search for what is durable, for a hope that does not melt like snowflakes and that does not depend on external energies or even on our own good behavior.” This is what art offers all of us, I believe. It is how and why it has the power to move us; to break and open our hearts; to connect us each to the other; to speak, with or without words, the old knowing, the ancient languages that have bound us since before time. Art is visceral. It gives us what we need even when we are not conscious of need.
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