Since being involved in the art world for over the past 30 years, many things have changed. Trends come and go, notions of what is considered “good” art vary, and what is popular in contemporary art fluctuates. While these things are constantly being redefined, I’ve continued to question and contemplate the function of art in our world. Here are some of my thoughts:
We can have an experience of tragedy without personal tragedy. The Greeks called this catharsis, which comes from the greek word for cleansing or purging. Greek tragedies were opportunities to vicariously experience deep feelings. For example, Sophocles’ Oedipus let’s us experience murder, incest, suicide and self-mutilation. We feel the horror, but ultimately we don’t have to suffer the consequences. We can experience genuine and deep feelings without actually living the event or circumstances that elicit these emotions. All Great Art is an invitation to experience – fear, joy, anxiety, confrontation, vulnerability, ecstasy and rapture. It is not a description or documentation of an event or feeling – it IS the event or feeling.
Art is a way of expanding and deepening awareness.
It is not a way to confirm what we already know, but to push beyond that. We want to try to understand what is beyond our reach. Art gives us the opportunity to access unconscious material by enlightening the rich areas of our mind that otherwise would not be available to us. Through a work of art, we can peek into our unconscious and make what we discover there part of our awareness, enriching our lives and our understanding of our world.
Art is a way of communicating that which is beyond the limitations of language.
Karen Armstrong states that “Music goes beyond the reach of words: it is not about anything” (The Case for God, Anchor; Reprint edition). She goes on to say that through music we can have experiences that do not translate to verbal communication. The same can be said of all forms of art- we listen to music for the feelings evoked, we read books and watch movies for the connections we make. Through art, we can transcend the inadequacies of language and communicate on a deeper, more meaningful level.
In all of these years considering the value and function of art, the common thread seems to be clear: it’s all about connection. Art connects us to each other, to ourselves, and to our humanity. It connects us to our past, present, and future. We are unique in our capacity for self awareness, our capability to grapple with the meaning of life and our mortality. Art provides us with a means to explore our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. It enables us to share our discoveries with each other in profound and [deeply personal] ways. Through art, we are offered insights into who we are and why we’re here, and it enables us to fully experience our extraordinary and complex existence.