Art. What is art?
The first thing that comes to mind for most people is a dusty Rembrandt in a gallery somewhere. In reality, art is as old as the hills, well almost anyway, and it’s all around us. Often, we fail to see it, but it’s still there.
There is, for example, natural art, such as the play of light that makes a rainbow, or the sweet sound a bird song. For those of us who are morning people, there is no greater wonder than the dawn chorus, but for others it’s just the damned birds squawking outside the window again. Which brings me to another point. Art is subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Mankind has been connected with art since we climbed down from the trees, and perhaps even before then. To this day we see evidence of this in cave drawings, pottery etc. Mankind felt a primitive need to connect with the world around him, and not just the physical world too. He also sought connection with the spiritual world; the forces of nature. Effectively art was about the expression of the wonders of life.
Even today, we are surrounded by art, although most of it is corrupted by commercialism. We see it in the clothes we wear, hear it in the music we listen to. It is everywhere. You will even find modern cave drawings in our public lavatories.
If we look back over the last century or so, art has been more than that. Art has been the catalyst for many revolution changes. After the First World War came the roaring twenties, with its bohemian music and fashion and its air of celebration. This new culture was reflected in their Art Deco art and their music. Skipping ahead to the swinging 60’s, we see the likes of Andy Warhol, Mary Quant, and the music of such artists as the Beatles. The Beatnik generation was a catalyst for major social revolution and a powerful anti-war movement that could arguably be said to eventually eliminated the arms race and the threat of nuclear assured destruction.
It didn’t take long, however, for commercial interests to latch onto the Beatniks, bringing the underground movement to the fore, but also diluting the purity of the revolutionary pulse of their art.
By the mid-seventies, the impetus had become almost egotistic and self-gratifying, leading to a new form of art, Punk, and it’s commercial side-kick, New Wave. Like the roaring twenties or the swinging sixties, this revolutionary art started with the social elite, but it was quickly embraced by the masses as a rejection of all had gone before. At its core was a core fundamental that art was for everyone. We each had something to say.
Art continues to be exploited, despite the best efforts of artists to maintain control of their work. The free festivals of the late sixties and seventies were eventually eradicated as too much of a threat to the status quo. The “Pay no more than,” pricing policy of bands in the late seventies petered out as large corporations bought out the independent record labels.
Art continues to struggle against commercialism, even in this age of the global village, but art is much more profound that a picture on the wall. It’s more profound even than a social revolution. It’s about self-expression. It should be something we all nurture and become a part of.
In this digital era, where everything is black or white, art is the grey area in-between. It is the space between the One’s and the Zero’s. Art is a multi-faceted expression of the individual in a world that likes to consume all and make it part of the whole.
Art can literally be a life saver. In a world that is rapidly lacking spirituality, art can be a way to connect to other people, nature, our ancestors, and even the future.
Through words, sound, and visual arts, we can express who we are, where we are from, and what we aspire to become. It is the pain of an angst-riddled teenager, the joy of motherhood, the haunted visions of a veteran. It is the expression of a man on death row, locked in his cell for twenty three hours a day. It crosses oceans in the blink of an eye. It inspires change in attitude and in our society. Despite the constant threat of commercialism, it remains one step ahead of the hungry pack, for they can only follow true art, not create it.
Children will naturally pick up a crayon and start to draw, as our ancestors did on cave walls eons ago. They will bang an old biscuit tins in search of that ancient tribal rhythm. They will sing to themselves tunelessly and find joy in the act.
As we get older, we are encouraged to put away our toys and become men and women of the world. We are told to do something more useful with our time. People forget how important it is to express our individuality. They forget that art isn’t about being the next Michael Angelo. It’s about connecting with your inner self and with the world around you. Art, even for the least gifted, is a way to reduce stress, find joy, and find that part of you which you have lost to the humdrum of everyday life.
Ultimately, Art is life. It’s time we freed it from the elitism of dusty galleries and embraced it as an essential part of a healthy society.