Why the World Needs Artistsby Carolyn Henderson on 3/1/2011 10:41:27 AM
This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.
For the last two weeks on the FineArtViews site, there has been a lively discussion about whether or not artistic ability is an inborn talent. Because many respondents commented on the concept of God-given gifts, the issue segued smoothly into discussions of a religious nature, and I have followed the thread with interest, wondering when or if Clint Watson would have to step in and ask everyone to go paint now, please.
It is gratifying to see that such interpolation was not necessary, and that artists of varying religious persuasions have been able to communicate graciously with one another without resorting to shouting back and forth in capital letters. What is even more intriguing is to see that, regardless of the spiritual outlook of the various writers, a majority attribute their ability, talent, hard work, and discipline to some form of inner strength -- be it metaphysical, earth-based, self-based, Christ-based, God-based, or Higher-Power-based of some form.
What I see here extends beyond individual belief and doctrine to something more universal: an acceptance and pursuit of truth in its many forms.
When I was a teenager, I had a poster amongst the dozens on my walls that said, "The pursuit of truth will set you free -- even if you never find it."
As an adult, I look at this saying and think, "Sounds good at first, but actually it's kind of stupid."
There are so many truths in this world down here, that if you set out to find them and can't, then you're looking for baby formula in the liquor store.
Truth: Gravity. It exists; it's a law; it won't be defied. It's not difficult to find.
Truth: Death. Same qualifications as gravity.
Truth: Life forms need water in order to continue to be living life forms.
Truth: Honesty, integrity, compassion, beauty, patience, perseverance, determination, loyalty, peace, hope -- these are good things, and when we as humans strive for them, good things abound. These good truths are the basis of all religions worth following.
Conversely, the polar opposites of the aforementioned truths -- envy, hate, bitterness, laziness, despair, slyness, manipulation, horror, pride, and fear -- are traps that we can fall into regardless of what we believe, and pursuing these counter truths draws out the worst in us, mitigating or eliminating the good in any spiritually derived teaching.
Artists -- because of their sensitive, analytical, observant, and creative nature -- are uniquely poised to present truth to a world that cries out for it. While there is the stereotype that artists are flakey people, self-absorbed and mumbling to themselves in their garret studios, there is a streak of level-headed common sense that runs through their veins, and when they paint or sculpt or otherwise create images of the world around them, they are presenting the truths, or absence thereof, that they see.
Artists are the canaries in the mine, warning society that it is on the wrong track. They see where we are going before we get there; they see the good truths that can be and the bad options that entice. They promote and elevate the good truths so that others can grasp and understand it.
“What is art?” is one of those mystery questions that is as unsolvable as “Why do innocent children suffer?”
“What is not art?” however, is vaguely answerable:
Art is not something that promotes the counter truths, simply to glorify them or shock the senses.
With this in mind, it can be strongly argued that a "sculpture" of a crucifix soaking in a container of urine is not art, because its sole purpose is to dismay and damage. Ripping into another's core beliefs with such unbridled contempt and hate produces only more contempt and hate, something we don't need more of in this world.
If you are an artist, you have a divine commission, whether or not you believe in a divine power: You see truth.
You are uniquely capable of translating abstract truths onto canvas (or bronze, or into fine jewelry, or into words -- art is broad and far reaching).
In a society that promotes engineers and scientists as the highest forms of helpers to mankind, artists are not valued for the deep and abiding contributions they make to the human race, but don't be deceived: building bridges and developing treatments for cancer are vitally important -- but so is creating art.
The engineers and the scientists can't do it.
Only the artists can.