Art is For What?

It’s been a while since I actually wrote about art per se.  A terrifying subject fraught with pot holes and political incorrectitude.  But I venture forth, dauntless.  And I blame it on a book I just finished reading: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  I didn’t realize until after I’d finished reading it that it had won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but I completely agree with the judges who awarded her the prize.

It’s a long book, 32 parts. (Now, I say I read it, but actually, I listened to it.  Audio books are my preferred venue for the most part … unless I’m lying on the beach somewhere in the Caribbean with nothing pressing to do.  Most audio books are somewhere around 10 or 12 parts.)

There were a few times during the “reading” when I considered not finishing the book because the poor hero of our story just kept having one misfortune after another and it was hard to witness.  I couldn’t see how this was going to have any kind of happy ending.  But the writing was so beautiful and the characters, engaging and even entertaining, however tragic.  In the end, I was entirely captivated and in awe of the image that the author was able to paint; an image of what the value of art actually is … why we as human beings need it/ want it/ buy it/ travel exorbitant distances just to see it/ steal it/ kill for it/ die for it. (Have you seen “The Monuments Men”?)

As an artist, I know why I neeeeed to DO it.  And as an artist I’m surrounded by it in my house. A wall without art is inconceivable … but is that just for storage?

As difficult as it has been to actually admit that I am an artist … the term seeming somehow frivolous and irresponsible … an undivorceable negative connotation in tow … I am also completely unable to think of myself as anything else. It’s not an uncommon problem.  One artist friend, when I met him for the first time, introduced himself as a painter.  But I thought he meant he was a house painter. I guess the word artist just conjures the cartoon image of a French guy in a beret and a cheesy mustache waving around a brush and spouting fountains of unintelligible artspeak.  I hate unintelligible artspeak.  I would have to say, and I admit I haven’t the highest IQ in the world, that most Artist Statements just completely baffle and frustrate me.

So, it was a wonder and a miracle of sorts to read the absolute poetry of Donna Tartt’s conception of art’s purpose and value and meaning and have it ring in me as true as my name.

“And isn’t the whole point of things – beautiful things- that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture in one way or another?”

The attraction anyone feels for a piece of art is never so high minded as “how it speaks to all mankind” but rather it’s a “psst from an alleyway” personal and specific, “…the light-rinsed atmosphere, the brush strokes he permits us to see, up close, for exactly what they are- handworked flashes of pigment, the very passage of the bristles visible – and then, at a distance, the miracle, or the joke … although really it’s both, the slide of transubstantiation where paint is paint and yet also feather and bone. It’s the place where reality strikes the ideal, where a joke becomes serious and anything serious is a joke. The magic point where every idea and it’s opposite are equally true.”

” … I’ve come to believe that there’s no truth beyond illusion.  Because between ‘reality’ on one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there’s a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic.”  And she says that this is exactly the place where  despair can “strike pure otherness and create something sublime.”

“Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair.”

This all feels true to me.  And if … and so … claiming the title “artist” takes on a nobler face; a face that humbles me even as it raises what I WOULD be; it raises from frivolity the act of buying and having art … out of the mall and into the temple of the soul.  I like that. I can aspire to that. Although I can pretty much guarantee that’s not what I’ll be thinking about while I’m painting. Ideally, I won’t be thinking at all.

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