Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Importance of Art

Art.  It's a word.  It's expression.  It's subjective.  Webster defines it as something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful, or that expresses important ideas or feelings.  So that means that practically anything can be considered art.  Paintings, sculpture, knitting, film, performance, and yes, even words. But that's just it… Why are these things important? 

I grew up in a land where "artists" were referred to as "artsy-fartsy" and were made fun of.  "You can't make a living with art," they said.  "An art degree is useless.  You'd be better off getting a degree in business/agriculture/computer science…"  In the world where I grew up, "art" was the realm of children and finger painters, sissies and overly-emotional twats that cried at the drop of a hat (and used pretentious words like "twat"), and the people who dared indulge in their creative side were mercilessly ridiculed and bullied.  Welcome to Redneck Texas.

To be fair, there's nothing wrong with blue-collar sensibilities.  Hell, if it weren't for those life-lessons, I wouldn't have the strong work-ethic that I have.  But where I grew up, there was a strong sense of practicality, and, let's face it, art is seldom practical. 

Pictured:  Awesome, yet impractical

The one saving grace that I had was in the first person to really encourage me to be creative:  My mother.  My father was the one who gave me my drive, my determination (some would say bull-headedness), and my ability to do just about anything I put my mind to.  But it was my mother, Nancy Johnson, who instilled upon me the notion that maybe I could create, and maybe it was worth something.  So, while on the one hand, I learned a great deal about the business of life, my mother taught me what living was about.  Does that make sense?  No?  Let me try to explain.

Pictured:  Your life.

Look at ants.  They live their lives doing a specific job.  Despite what Disney or Pixar tell us, they don't have much of an "off hours" life.  Ants work themselves until they die in a single-minded pursuit of getting their job done.  Why?  So that the next generation can get the job done.  And so on and so forth.  Now picture your life like that of an ant.  You go to work, put in your eight hours, go home, eat, and go to sleep, only to wake up the next morning and do it all again.  Now imagine it was seven days a week instead of five.  I mean, after all, that's what ants do.  And that's what people do when they get trapped in the ant-like cycle of their daily lives.  They work and work and work to make money, so they can buy things, that allow them to work more, so they can make money, so they can buy things…  You get the idea.  If you're like me, it would drive you mad.  

There's an old saying:  Work to live, but don't live to work.  Yes, we all need jobs.  We all need to make the almighty dollar so we can afford things like houses, cars, smart-phones and food.  We need the paycheck to keep our lights on and our bellies filled.  In short, we must work in order to live.  

But it is art that makes life worth living.  

Art is, at its basest level, an attempt at communicating something emotional to the audience.  It's a handshake between artist and audience.  It's the artist saying "This moves me.  I want you to understand why, and I want you to feel it too."  Think about that for a moment.  Think about the last song that brought you to tears.  Think about the last painting that left you breathless.  Think about the last story that terrified you or the last performance that inspired you to greatness.  What would you be doing without those things?  What would your world look like?  Grey?  

Pictured:  BLEH.

Artists are not common at all.  The world needs people who run the day-to-day, because without them the world falls apart.  But the world also needs artists because, without them, the rest of us fall apart.  We lose sight of our humanity.  We forget what it's like to feel.  We forget what beauty is, or what it means to be inspired.  Without artists, we forget why we have weekends off.  We lose the many inventions and innovations created because some creative genius asked "What if."  Without art, we lose our souls. 

The beauty of creation lies at the heart of an artist.  Whether it is born there or is bred from nurture, it is a fragile creature, too easily silenced and smothered by those who don't see the world the way we do.  We change with the ages, but our spirit remains the same.  We are the ones who ask "What if."  We work to live, but art is what makes life worth living for. 

Pictured:  A world worth living in.
If you happen to see an artist, be it a writer, dancer, sculptor, painter, musician, film maker, or any other of the millions of types of art out there…  If you happen to see one, recognize what you're looking at:  Someone who makes your existence bearable. 

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