I was asked to write an article for an art magazine a few years ago. I was given no parameters other than, perhaps, if I was interested, I would be given the opportunity to write monthly. And so I thought, "Perfect! With the first article, we will begin, of course, at the beginning." I titled the article What is Art and off I went... The magazine never got off the ground but I have the article still and posted it back then. The responses I received were wonderful! so I thought I'd share it again here. Happy Sunday!!
WHAT IS ART?
Art is… Art is what gives us our humanity.
If you’ve spent thirty seconds discussing art with me, you’ve heard those exact words out of my mouth. Why do I say art is what gives us our humanity? How does art give us our humanity?
If you look up humanity, one of the definitions you will find is, “The quality or condition of being human.” In order to be more specific, you look up the word human and you find, “of, or pertaining to, characteristic of or having the nature of people.” And you immediately begin to understand the failure of words alone to describe or convey real meaning.
When we talk about art, we attempt to put words around something that has its own language in order to understand it intellectually. Art is not alone an intellectual pursuit. The intellectual is but one small, narrow piece of what art is. In fact, any attempt to intellectualize art is a failure to truly understand art.
Our basic human/animal instinct is to react to art on a visceral level. You know, that feeling of your heart suddenly fluttering inside your chest when you see a piece or you feel like you were kicked in the gut because the air was all taken out of your lungs as you gasped at a piece. Sometimes we are so deeply moved by a work of art, we simply cannot move. We are stuck in time and space. (I will NEVER forget my first experience of this. That though, is for another column.) We may say we love or hate a piece but art works specifically because it has the ability to be evocative, to resonate deeply within our being, drawing on and often awakening our most basic of senses.
When something monumental takes place, something that hits all of society on a large scale, across cultures, artists create art around the event. And it is often when one stands in front of one of these pieces that a sense of, “I get it” sets in and although we “get it” we still don’t have words for “it” but we know “it” resonates in our cell of our body, as if we are connecting to a primordial knowledge that spans the entire history of time and is shared by all existence.
Art gives us our humanity by its ability to connect to something innate that is within every single one of us, without the use of a single word. Art connects us as humans, as animals, as beings to each other, to our emotions, experiences, thoughts and feelings. Art resonates across cultures, across languages and across land. It endures and transcends time.
Art is what gives us our humanity.