15 June 2009

How -- and why -- (visual) art suddenly matters

Actually, art has always mattered. No doubt about that. Art (of many kinds) and music have been staples of human experience for as long as we've been able to draw figures and sing and dance and make stuff that is not only functional but also beautiful. They're staples of the human experience, and they have a way of getting to us in ways that only they can.

I'm going to talk about visual art, here. Much as it dovetails and consummately integrates with visual art, music is a whole other massive world unto itself, and I'm going to leave it alone for the time being.

There's a reason that art collections, whether corporate or personal, grow over time. There's a reason that art has become increasingly valuable over the past years. It's not just about art portfolios out-performing stocks and bonds and real estate in long-term appreciation of value. It's not just about striking a pose and chatting about your latest acquisition at a dinner party thrown for the parents of the kids your child goes to private school with. It's not just about making a good impression when you're standing in front of a piece at the MFA or MOMA or WAM and some good-looking (and apparently single) individual stops beside you to admire it.

I've been working with colors and lines and light for decades, now. I've been doing it in the privacy and comfort of my own home workspace(s), building pieces out of whatever was available, and being alternately surprised/dismayed/pleased/distressed/annoyed/encouraged/invigorated by the results. I haven't had a lot of formal training -- almost none, if you must know the truth. I've had a sort of "fringe" arts education -- hanging with people who have had the means and the opportunity to receive formal training, who assured me that what I was creating was every bit as inspired as what they came up with.

But I never really took it to heart. Art for me was always something that was, well, for me. A sort of poor-woman's therapy that kept me going through thick and thin.

And while I haven't shown a lot of my work to a lot of people, I have had a lot of time to think about art and light and color and lines... not in the context of a formal educational environment, but in the context of my own life, my own art, my own impressions. And the ideas and approaches and attitudes I've developed around art and its place in the world have had the freedom to grown and change in a sort of hermetically sealed one-way mirrored container of sorts -- always looking out, always looking out... reading various things along the way, contemplating those things, changing my views, adjusting my attitudes... all along the way...

And what this isolated thought process of mine has come up with, is that (visual) art is, in its purest form, simply information. Its lights, colors, lines, textures, shapes... it's all information. And it is non-verbal information that is actually a synthesis of and extension of verbal information -- a visual-spatial "echo" of the linear-sequential info we are constantly taking in, which sends out ripples of effect throughout the whole of our lives, the whole of our world. What's more, color and lines and shapes and textures enable our brains to synthesize the linear-sequential information, so that it can be integrated into our whole selves, and so inform our own growth and evolution.

Visual art, to me, is a complement and logical extension of this linear-sequential-information-rich modern world we presently inhabit. Each and every day, those of us who are connected with computers and other media are bombarded with information at a dizzying rate that probably would have driven our great-great-grandparents over the edge. We can't possibly take it all in. We can't possibly make sense of it all.

Unless, of course, we use art.