One of the major reasons why it's so hard to sell people on contemporary art is because it just doesn't seem practical.
Let's face it. An iPad is practical. A car is practical. A bed is practical. A comb is practical. A roll of toilet paper is very practical. But art? Is art practical?
As I'm typing these words, I'm sitting in my living room where I'm surrounded by art. My favorite paintings from cool artists are hanging on every wall, African sculptures are sitting on desks and in display cabinets and it's a very comfortable, nurturing space.
I don't touch any of the art. I don't drive it. I don't lie down on it. I don't use it for personal grooming or anything of the sort. So, what's the point?
An artist once told me that the whole point of art is that it does NOT have a practical purpose. Could this actually be the practicality of art? The fact that it's not really "practical" at all? Is it possible to have too much practicality in our lives and not enough dreaming and floating on Cloud 9?
As a society, we applaud practicality. Practicality seems good. It's useful. It's down to earth. Practicality is all about shaking off dead end daydreaming and fantasies and getting straight to work. Practicality means no nonsense or time for foolishness.
One of my favorite sayings come from the Bible. Hang with me on this for a moment. It's from Proverbs and it goes, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last, there is life and joy."
Is there any practicality in that statement? Isn't that proverb all about aspirations, dreams and hopes? Doesn't it sort of imply that if we don't dream dreams and pursue them, we'll live broken lives? Isn't that sort of the function of art? To help us dream and imagination life as we might imagine? Dare I say that this is the practicality of art?
Everything that is practical exists on our terms. We grab them, we use them and we put them away until we need them once again. It's all about US. However, art is a bit trickier isn't it? Art demands that we consider it on its own terms. Hmm.
What am I trying to say? I guess I'm saying that yes, art does have practical uses in our lives. However, the practicality of art isn't necessarily measurable. Art isn't as easy as seeing the "quick fix."
And yet, even as I'm typing these words, I'm thinking that no one ever questions the "practicality" of football games or toys or music or going to the movies. They're simple things and pastimes that people enjoy. They add spice to life. Isn't that practical enough?
Art is tougher than those things. Art is a slow process. Art is evolution. Art is about doing the work and accepting that it's all open-ended and extremely subjective. It's a long journey that never has a clear destination. This is what makes art such a pain in the ass for people. The answers are never cut and dry. That's also why so many people think they have to be scholars to understand art.
The practicality of art really exists in the realm of the unseen, doesn't it? Art doesn't spoon feed us nor does it coddle us like needy babies. We must stop, look and listen to art in order to gain a true understanding of how it serves us. The practicality of art is like reading a mystery novel.
Art is like a hot babe who won't put out on the first, second or third date. You're going to have to work very hard to win her love and respect. Isn't that how it should be? Who wants to be treated like a used wad of toilet paper? I know. Disgusting.
Toilet paper. Isn't toilet paper the ultimate in practicality? It's very useful and we all definitely need it. And yet, we don't exalt toilet paper the way we do art which doesn't seem to have any practical use at all. Wait. Am I actually comparing art to toilet paper? Of course not.
However, in our world, we often equate practicality with materiality. If it's not "hands on," then it's not very practical. And yes, art is very material, but art refuses to be enslaved by materiality. That's why we question the "practicality" of art. It's also why so many people label art as fancy or "high falutin." Boy, if only we could do that ... Just refuse to be enslaved by our materiality. This would be a different world.
It's all so very perplexing, isn't it? Art is such a pain in the ass.