One of the never ending discussion threads that I have run into time and time again is the ageless question of, “What is Art?” There have been countless minds much greater than mine which have wrestled with this question, and I strongly suspect that there is no complete answer to this question.
So, I am not in any way proposing to put that question to rest. Rather, I think it is actually more useful to look at smaller pieces of the question, as one would examine the many facets of a fine diamond. While we may never see every facet all at the same time, each one gives us a better understanding of not only what WE are trying to do, but a better ability to see and respond to what OTHER people are trying to do, in the name of “Art”.
One of the most common ideas I’ve heard about art is that it brings beauty. Now, the term, “beauty” is perhaps just as elusive to define as “art”, but I think it is generally thought of as something which is aesthetically pleasing, brings joy, delights our hearts, conforms to certain ideals of form and color, etc. There is certainly a lot of beauty in art, whether it is a sunset, light reflecting on water, a beautiful woman, patterns of light and color, reflections of strength and character, even the grace and grandeur of age, and it touches our hearts.
I certainly love beautiful art, and endeavor to make beauty a part of what I create, however, I think it is horribly limiting to think of art as only what is “beautiful”. The world is also full of brokenness, injustice, selfishness and darkness. It is the calling of the artist to reflect both sides of our human condition, to bring attention to not only what is right about the world, but to harshly remind us of what is wrong, and our responsibility even to see the roots of that reality in our own hearts.
Perhaps more than beauty, it is the character of art to bring us sight.
It is human nature that we are horribly short-sighted. Especially in our dark times, we may either choose, or simply be incapable of recognizing the beauty that is sitting right in front of our noses. How many evenings have we hurried from our car to our door without pausing for a moment to notice the beauty of the sunset, or a flower, or even the determination of a blade of grass pushing its way up through a crack in the concrete? How many times have we paused to look into someone’s eyes and recognize the inner beauty reflected there (regardless of whether that person is a “model” or not)? Art, in its best form, gives us an opportunity to stop, reflect, consider, and absorb the beauty around us that we so rarely take the time to see.
On the other side, there is so much around us that we refuse to look at. Darkness lies around every corner that we avoid. In our comfortable surroundings, we forget the injustice and human suffering that make our plush, modern lifestyles possible. We have no idea of the realities of so many other human beings, whether they are under the curse of poverty, slavery, oppressive regimes, famine, war or natural disaster. Right next to us, people are trapped by their own inner darkness, taking shape in countless different demons. Art can open our eyes, whether it’s the heart wrenching images of a photo-journalist or battle field photographer, or the twisted, bloody scrawling of a tormented teenager.
Art brings us to be able to see all of that.
Art is a mirror to see the truth about ourselves. Art is a spotlight to help us see through the darkness. Art is a microscope to help us notice the little things. Art is a filter to reduce the noise of life. Art is a paintbrush to fill in the colors of the world around us. Art is a lens that brings people into focus. Art is a conversation to bring understanding and friendship. Art is sledge hammer that breaks down walls of prejudice. Art is a heart monitor that reminds us that we are still alive.
The more we think of our art as “speaking” and “seeing”, the more we will truly be able to create great art.