Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Observations on Art 7.10

I have been rolling a question around in my sometimes empty head for a couple weeks now, probably since I was at the shore. On the surface it's a fairly simple question but looks are always deceiving. Why does art matter? The New York Times Magazine article I recently wrote
about (l) only morphed my question into why does art history matter?

A few years ago I may have answered it matters because it matters to me and that would have been enough. The problem with that answer is it doesn't win many arguments let alone grants or funding.

One thing I have come up with is that it matters because it endures. The human species has a beautiful, colorful, sometimes terrible history on this planet. That history goes back well beyond the 3,000 years ago when some would say the master builder flipped the breaker and created all this. Art in its myriad forms has been a part of our history since its very beginning. The earliest known cave paintings, in the Cave of El Castillo in Spain, date back 40,000 years. Those cave paintings aren't all that different from something you would see today on the side of the D train in the Bronx. If we try hard enough in that link to our past we can sometimes see our future.

But that is just the philosophical answer of an art trained mind. How does art matter to somebody struggling in today's world? Now the question gets harder to answer.

For now I'll go with a simple answer. In this deranged finite world of sound bites and wars on this or that art is an escape. Art is infinite. I often go to the Museum of Modern Art and I am always amazed at the number of people quietly pondering this painting or that. By now I know by look who is an "art person" and who isn't and most of these aren't art people. They are just normal people lost in thought. I often wonder what they are thinking but I know in my heart what they aren't thinking. They aren't thinking about the presidential election, the weather, or what they heard on the morning news. However briefly art has helped them escape this finite world we live in and that makes art matter.

Not long before he died John F. Kennedy said this, "We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth."

A final thought. In my mind I can picture the last person on Earth after we have destroyed it. She is sitting on a beach, stick in hand, drawing a picture of a flower.