17 February 2004

Is art necessary and/or liberating?

Is art necessary and/or liberating?

In an attempt to escape from the tyrannical cliché, 'art for art's sake,' I want to identify two fundamental conditions for art: creation and beauty.

But first a caveat. Although I will be using painting as an example of art, I do not intend to exclude other forms of art such as literature, sculpture, music and some would even say gastronomy. I personally think that the basics are the same for all forms of art.

I will start by asking those awkward questions philosophers revel in: For example, what is art? what is the purpose of art? Are artists born or made? And maybe, who is an artist?

Applying the LIFO principle, i.e. last in first out, we start with the question: who is an artist? This reminds me of an exchange I had with a business client some years ago. At the time I was experimenting with oil painting so I offered him to do a small landscape. To which he replied, ''of course, when you give me the painting I'll have to kill you.'' Usually, famous painters are dead, die poor, but certainly make the owners of their art rich!

So must an artist be someone famous, dead, whose art commands a handsome price and maybe exhibited in a museum? Never mind logic, common sense tells us that this is not the case. It's nice to have all these attributes, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions. One thing is certain though, if someone's handy work gives us pleasure and enjoyment then that person is an artist. Some might argue that there is more to art than just pleasure and enjoyment, but I beg to disagree.

Are artists born or made? Let's consider this question this way. Some can paint and some cannot. Some can draw and others do not know how to even start. Of course some people learn at art school others become apprentices to a master whilst others just pick up a brush at young age and produce master pieces. It seems that this very insignificant question has all sorts of possible answers.

Let's, therefore, try and pin it down a bit. How many of you keep those crayon drawings children love to make stuck to a fridge or the side of a computer? Or maybe admire an intrepid four year old doing an al fresco on the walls of the sitting room? I'm sure we all agree that these artists are born. But is it art? For sure, most of these 'works' give some form of pleasure or enjoyment to the intended audience. Ok! Maybe the al fresco in the sitting room needs some mulling over!

It is clear that the intention of the four year old is not to create a master piece, but maybe to show affection to a parent. Of course, adult artists have other motives for creating art. Paying the rent comes quite high up the list.

Talent is another reason for some people to become artists. But whatever the reasons for taking up art there is one thing which all artists have in common. Be it your four year old kid with a crayon in hand sliding over the wall, or the master mixing their paint ready to be brushed onto that virgin white canvas. The urge, if not the need, is to create something. To create something from nothing so to speak.

Let's be clear about this, the paint is in the tube and most people can hold a brush in their hand. In other words it is not a question of access or material, but character. I will argue that finally we have reached something that makes art different from other activities. Maybe the worn out phrase, ''art for art's sake'', should be changed to ''art for creation's sake.''

We can take it as given that when an artist is creating a work of art he or she are liberating themselves to be imaginative. Let's not get bogged down in an argument whether a portrait of a king, with a pose as stiff as a ram rod, is art or not.

Maybe the mistake we make about art is that because we don't have a painting hanging in some museum then we cannot possibly be artists. I want to argue that we can all be artists, admittedly of a certain kind. I will show you later what I mean. So, once we can see ourselves as potential artists then we are talking as equals. We will in fact see that we are born to be artists, art is necessary, it is liberating and in many cases master pieces do happen.

What is the artist creating? In my opinion the artist is trying to create beauty. Look at it this way. The worst thing that can happen to an artist is for people to be indifferent to his or her work. A rejection is a rejection; there is always the next one. Bad reviews are bad reviews; there is always the next one.

Now, what if the artist's work is accepted? What if the work of the artist is admired? What if the artist manages to create something with a high 'wow!' factor? Doesn't all this result into an emotional and pleasurable experience? Doesn't a good painting mersmerise us or evoke our passions and emotions?

And doesn't beauty have the same effect on us? Isn't beauty about feeling good, feeling emotional, feeling pleasure, feeling, well, great?

Of course, it is up to you to decide whether my argument leads to my conclusion that art is about the creation of beauty. And moreover, whether art is necessary and liberating; we don't need that 'or' here.

Earlier I promised you that not only are we all potentially artists, but that we are born to be so. I'm not promising that your handy work will one day be exhibited in a museum, but that everyone has the potential to create beauty; within the limits of my arguments of course.

I won't be giving you any instructions, but only a hint, the rest I will appeal to the creator and artist in you, but you'll have to think carefully about it . The hint is this: two people in love with each other in the privacy of their own company.

Take care


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