This is so easy yet it’s difficult.
It’s easy because we know why, but difficult because it’s exactly how we got here.
Let’s start with the easy part.
When you live in a world where it seems that the bottom line is the most important thing, how could and why would people think art matters?
When people are worried about getting and keeping jobs, putting food on the table and paying bills, why would they think art matters? Do they even have time?
When society is seemingly obsessed with money, power, fame, success, politics, winning and whatever else, how can art really matter?
When many people in the art world insist on keeping art shrouded in mystery and treat it like a commodity to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange, why should people think art matters to them?
When an artist’s gold-plated, human waste can sell for $500,000 … by the way, yes THAT IS art … does art matter?
That’s exactly how we got here.
And yet, I dare say that every single day, you can easily find some art student, struggling artist, art teacher, art curator, art dealer, art museum director or even art collector secretly shaking in their boots and wondering whether they’ve done the right thing by giving so much of their time to something they love so much that they don’t want to live without it … even though they could … if their lives depended on it, which thank God, it does not.
Phew! That was one long sentence.
Years ago, I spoke to group of college art students. Before I entered the auditorium, the professor politely and shyly said to me, “Be gentle with them. These kids eat, sleep and breathe art.”
As I think back now, this really seems a little heartbreaking … one … because the professor felt that he had to say that to even someone like me, who loves art … and two … because we both knew that those students hadn’t made it there without some heavy and ongoing soul searching about their lives and their decisions to major in art or art history.
Has “contemporary art” ever been a decision steeped in practicality and financial security? I think not.
Also years ago, I recall chatting with an art dealer at Art Chicago (now Expo Chicago). I think I’ve told you about this before. When I asked the dealer how things were going, the dealer replied …
“Well … we’re trying to sell people things that they don’t NEED!”
With that, I changed the subject. That statement says it all, does it not? How can people think something matters if they don’t believe they need it? That’s common sense, not love or passion. Fear and worry strike again. Fear and worry are those identical twins that ruin everything, aren’t they?
“You have to do what’s practical!” “You have to make money!” “You have to keep a roof over your head!” “You have to pay your bills!” “What kind of future are you going to have with art?” “George, did you hear? He says he’s going to major in art!” “WHAT? Oh my God!” “My tuition money down the tubes!”
Those voices in your head (and in actuality) never go away. They are passion killers … if you allow them to be. At some point, you must ask yourself, “What’s the point in being a well-paid, computer programmer, attorney or brain surgeon if I’m going to be unhappy and dead to life every day?”
Still, being well paid does have its advantages.
Pursuing your passion ain’t easy. As soon as you name it, an uphill battle comes to claim it. It comes out of nowhere. All of that work, worry, stress, blood, sweat, tears, bad dreams and tossing and turning in the wee hours for …
Art? Worse yet, contemporary art? Pardon me while I throw up in my mouth.
There’s got to be an easier way. Even in the best of economic times, art walks on wobbly legs. The threat of the bubble is always floating overhead.
And yet, when little kids pick up a paintbrush for the first time, some of them do it even better than picking up a fork for the first time. And yet, when people come to my home and see all of my art, I can literally SEE the art giving them LIFE. They WAKE the hell UP. And yet, when people go on vacations to some of the world’s top cities, what are the first places they go visit? Art museums. And yet, many people, after either retiring or at least getting some free time on their hands, what do they do? They take up painting … or dancing … or suddenly, they want to write a book.
It’s like a primal calling … a calling that we follow early on, but surrender later on because society tells us that there’s something more pressing … something more practical … something more adult ... something smarter and more steeped in reality.
And then, everyday, a little piece of you either dies or gets pushed down into the recesses of self doubt, frustration and anger. This is the pathway to the dark side. Literally. I have absolutely no scientific proof to back this up, but I’d be willing to bet my entire art collection that if some of these young men who commit school shootings had early and prolonged engagement with art, I wouldn’t even be able to type these words right now because school shootings wouldn’t be an issue. But who am I to say such things?
I don’t know. It’s so easy yet it’s difficult, isn’t it? It’s also exactly how we got here.
Does art matter?