Some definitions escape the bounds of human language. We have a word for “it”, whatever this mysterious “it” may be, and we all, most of us anyway, know “it” when we see “it”, or at least condition ourselves to believe we can recognize not-“it” when we don’t see “it”. We all use such words as though we have “it” in a convenient little box, and yet when pressed, none of us can provide any evidence that we have any idea what we are talking about.
There are more of these words than I can count. Words like “beauty” and “love”, or others like “gravity” or “light”. We use these words without any idea of what we are really talking about, but we use them nonetheless.
I recently acquired the first work of art I’ve ever bought for myself. It’s stunningly beautiful, and while most people agree it’s awesome, there seems to be some debate over whether or not it’s “art”. And yet, when I question people, they can’t really explain why they think it is or is not “art”.
So, what is art? Leo Tolstoy argued that art is the transmission of feeling from one to another. Oscar Wilde professed that it is both serious and useless. I would argue that they still aren’t defining art, but it’s relation to us.
Now, before we go any further, I would like to point out that there are two ways of looking at art. One is from the perspective of the artist, the other from the perspective of everyone else. It is my opinion that the world has heard plenty from the side of the artists, and it’s not been particularly helpful to the rest of us.
Think about it, if you were wandering in a field of Indian Paintbrush and were suddenly forced to consider why it was that you thought a field of flowers was so beautiful, you’d be hard pressed to get a satisfactory answer from the flower or the field.
Let’s say you’re stumbling around in your grandparent’s attic and you happen to find a Matisse. Now, perhaps you don’t think Matisse is particularly good, maybe you’re glad Fauvism died a quick and sudden death, but in perusing your grandparent’s attic, if you found one of his works tucked in with a pile of children’s scribbles, you’d almost certainly pick it out of the mix. You’d stare at it, and whether you’d like it or not, you’d be forced to admit there’s something there. Not necessarily something good, not necessarily something worth keeping, but there’s something there, and the more you look for it the less likely you are to find it.
The rest of this post is meant to be read out loud. It doesn’t matter if there are people around, in fact, that’s even better. If there’s not someone around, go find someone and make them sit and listen while you read it out loud. And then make them read it to you.
Art is the something in the nothing. The glimpse of meaning in what is otherwise useless. The divine in the impractical; the truth buried in fiction. But so what?
Art is communication, but not with the artist. Who then? The observer, certainly, but who else? And for that matter, about what?
Art is a filter. Just as you can hold a sheet of blue cellophane to the light and see only blue or nothing, so art masks what is seen through it. In fact, this is what makes great art great: the filter works so precisely in it’s job as a filter that it filters consistently across humanity. It may not filter much, or in exactly the same way, but a Pollock is distinct from scribbles because scribbles don’t force you to see what lies beyond the scribble. Scribbles don’t force you to see where you fall in the scribble. Not just how you feel about the scribble, but how the scribble reminds you how you feel about yourself, your love, your beauty, the woman standing across the room, your job, the job you want to have, the stars, tomorrow night, small animals, large rivers, a perfectly cut onion, your parents, the A-Team, Vietnam, 9-11, 7-Eleven, your first dance, the way that water flows over glass, whether you think purple and violet are really just the same color, the way the sun feels on your hair, the way the wind feels in your hair, that time you got hit in the face with a baseball, whirlpools, the Loch Ness Monster, your best friend from middle school and the best way to reduce the federal deficit.
Scribbles can’t do that.
Art is a conversation between me and myself filtered through the eyes of someone else. It’s a conversation between me and past-me and future-me and the me-that-loves-you and the me-that-hates-you and the me-that-wishes-you-wouldn’t-have-left and the me-that’s-glad-you’re-gone. It’s a conversation between me and the woman staring at the Picasso in the next room and the couple in the corner laughing at the still life and the people who will stand exactly where I’m standing but they’ll be standing here tomorrow night and thinking something completely different and feeling something completely different yet somehow exactly the same.
Art is a way of standing outside yourself and everything, closing one eye, standing on one leg, hopping around in a circle until you get dizzy, screaming until you get horse, and then falling down on the ground and staring up at the sky until the clouds paint your life story in a swirling soup of wind and water and thought and pain, exhilarating randomness and gut wrenching order. It is laughing with all of humanity at all of humanity then giving all of humanity a simultaneous hug and left hook. It’s about experiencing life without experiencing anything by experiencing nothing, a completely opaque window to a world of infinite beauty.
Art is me looking at me and finding me beautiful not because I’m beautiful but because I’m not art. Art is me looking at you and finding you beautiful not because you’re beautiful but because you’re not me. Art is me looking at the world and finding you in the middle of everything beautiful and everything ugly and nothing and everything in between. Art is me looking at us and seeing the us-we’re-not-and-have-always-been. Art is me looking at the space between us and seeing everything there is to see about me and you and everything that is neither of us and nothing that is both of us. Art is me.
Art is me.
Art is me. And I’m fucking incredible.
Posted with : Bare with Me