Thursday, July 1, 2010

What Is Art? WHY Is Art?

Imagine a songwriter, a writer, and a painter, all sitting together to watch the same sunset.  Of course, each person witnesses the spectacle through their own filter of experience, and each sees something different.  They are each motivated to capture the moment they share.

The songwriter picks up his pen and starts to hum to himself.  The music that comes to this man may be a melody that reminds him of his father's favorite song, because the sunset reminds him of a hunting trip he shared with his father.  The sunset disarms him and makes him feel the freedom and trust of that trip.  He writes a sweet homage to the man in his memory.

The writer also picks up a pen.  She examines the shadows and the light, the variation of hues.  She leafs through her mind, trying to find the words to describe the richness of the palette in front of her.  She settles on a memory, the experience of walking through a grand art gallery.  She writes about the world as a canvas and the sky as the artist.  She writes about the way the sun tilts to the horizon and spills a rich carpet of color on its bed before settling into night.  The writer has transferred her impression to words.

The painter takes up his paints.  He sees the sunset in its components -- amber, purple, magenta, cobalt, all centered by a spectacular golden orb that's fading into bronze.  The last time he saw this specific palette, he was in Miami, celebrating his honeymoon with a wife who has since died.  The beauty of the memory moves him to tears as he paints, and the canvas comes to life with his emotion.  His strokes are broad, but not hurried.  His painting becomes a tribute to a golden moment of happiness.

This is how art is created.  No matter how different you think your art is -- writing vs. painting vs. music -- every artist aspires to the exact same thing: Every artist creates art to transmit emotion filtered through experience.  The best art in the world, therefore, is the art that doesn't have to be explained.  If the artist has done their job, everything should be easy to follow.  The lines on the canvas belong where they are.  There are no misspellings in honest, passionate writing.  There are no jangling notes thrown in for "artistic context" in a good song.

No one should have to explain lyrics to you.  You shouldn't have to read the card beside the art hanging in a gallery to get it.  You shouldn't have to run to a dictionary to understand the words a writer uses.  Those things are acceptable, of course, if you do initially get it -- if you feel the emotion and see it through the correct filter.  If, then, you're motivated to go deeper into the experience and read the lyrics and examine the art for subtexts or get the dictionary to understand all nuances of a word, then so be it.

I hope this also explains why what is art to some is trash to others.  All art created authentically and for the right reasons has an audience.  It is the artist's job to find his or her audience.


  1. Very interesting, MJ. I've always thought something similar, that art is a matter of perspective, a unique combination of filters through which we view the world. A big component of that art is learning to properly communicate it through the medium in a way that resonates with others.

    A good artist will make his target audience think: that's exactly how I think/feel, but I've never been able to express it so precisely as THIS does. And that is why art is so valuable to others, they want that externalization around, a tangible version of their internalized experience.

    Love your blog entries. They always seem to resonate that way with me.

  2. I love that you have the ability to put, so succinctly, into words the very thoughts that I have not been able to express even though I have felt the same. This reminds me of a quote: An audience does not find talent; talent finds an audience. heeheeheehee!

  3. Nice post, MJ ~

    Life is our Field of Dreams . . .

    Whether or not something I write resonates with a given reader depends on the reader. If I write honestly, my intended audience will appear while those who are not intended to be in my pool of readers will drift away.

    When we are enjoying the journey, we stop worrying about finding our intended audience ~ we trust that our intended audience will find us.

    Write on!