“What is art?”
While taking courses for my Master’s degree over a decade ago, I was presented with this question by a professor who was teaching a course entitled “The Philosophy of Art.” During this summer course, I was led down a rabbit hole to think about art, thoughts, world-making, and many other ideas that left my brain truly fried. Defining art is not an easy task. I am unable to remember when or where I heard the best definition of the word art that I have yet to encounter. Although this thought does not belong to me, the paraphrased version is still worth sharing. It goes something like this:
art (n): any idea, creation, or performance that exists as a result of an individual’s thinking that otherwise would not exist.
Perhaps this definition is too simplistic for some people. I am sure that some scholar would scoff and make their best attempt to correct this ghastly attempt to oversimplify what they perceive as a much more sophisticated action. What appeals to me in this definition is the inclusivity of every person alive.
We are all artists.
We may not make a living from our art.
We may not even be aware of the fact that we are making art.
Those details do not matter.
We are all artists, regardless of our awareness of the concept.
Art, in all its forms, has the power to transform our world more than any other force. I tweeted that over a year ago. I was very proud of that tweet. (When I was in Austin this summer at a concert, I was stopped in my tracks when I saw a quote that was so similar painted on the wall. Katja Van Herle’s quote serves as the featured image of this blog post.) This tweet was in reaction to a piece of public performance art that took place in Carnegie Hall during the “Pathway to Paris” concert. Olafur Eliasson had taken the stage that night to lead a performance piece aimed at sending light, both figurative and literal, to those affected by the devastation in Puerto Rico. When the audience arrived for the concert, we noticed solar powered lights under our seats. At first, I thought it was something I would get to bring home. As Olafur began speaking, we were informed that the lights were not souvenirs, and that he needed our help in using them to raise awareness for the people of Puerto Rico. The thousands of solar powered lights in Carnegie Hall that night had been left to harness the power of the sun in Germany. They were then packed up and shipped to New York. After the performance, they were to be sent to the people of Puerto Rico to have access to light while their power was out. The world would provide a subtle gesture of help. When I think about how at least one person was helped out by Olafur’s efforts, it brings a smile to my face.
I left that night with something more powerful than I could have imagined. Around the time of this concert, I began working on a few projects that will hopefully see the light of day at some point in my life. Seeing an artist collaborate with an audience in the efforts to help others was incredibly inspirational and life-affirming.
When I initially began to reflect on the election that took place this past November, I couldn’t help but think about the many artists that I have respected, admired, and supported over my life and how they have done their best to address causes that are meaningful to them. I am sure that some artists may try to avoid politics and potentially polarizing positions. Most of the artists who mean the most to me are not shy in being honest about their own causes and positions. I do not know these people on a personal level, but their efforts to be honest and share their worldview have provided comfort and assistance for me in making sense of my own world.
The idea of this post has taken many forms in my mind. In fact, much of what was sketched out to be included did not make this final cut. Originally, my decision was to include many examples of how art has helped guide me to be reflective of my own experiences and decisions. Ultimately, it began to feel too much like a laundry list and unintentionally diminished each of these artists and their creative endeavors. My hope is to elaborate on each of these artists and experiences in depth over the course of the next few months and years in separate blog posts. (Originally, there would have been about twenty such examples. Being more thoughtful about each experience seems more fitting. That number will also continue to grow, without a doubt.)
Art is a vital part of a society rooted in democratic thinking. The freedom to openly share new ideas to provoke thinking must be treasured. As we are consumed more and more by corporate ambitions for the sake of profits, I am very aware of directly supporting individual artists whenever possible. As the political climate shifts more towards protecting big business and big money, I fear for those who are genuinely interested in creating for the sake of creation and sharing. Their efforts must be supported on every level.
We are all artists. Each and every interaction helps define the world that we make.
What impact would you like your own art to have on the world?