Work in progress, a painting of my friend Ben Viscon’s wine bar
Sometime during my Life, Examined exhibit a woman came up to me and said, “I don’t understand what you’re doing here at all.”
I tried to explain about installation art — but she stopped me. “No, I mean, you can’t sell any of this,” she said.
The comment shocked me. “Art’s not about selling,” I told her. “It’s about connecting with someone visually and emotionally, communicating an idea or a feeling in a different way than words.”
But I knew what I was saying wouldn’t click for her. And ever since then, I’ve been thinking about how we’ve gotten to this place culturally, where the role of art has changed so drastically.
Art was probably our first way to communicate. And sometimes with a painting or an image, I believe we can still speak more directly, straight to the heart, straight to the gut. You can be moved to tears, or nausea, by a powerful black and white photo for example — without even thinking or putting into words why. You just feel something immediately; you can describe what it was later.
In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, painting was used as a way to connect people with the feeling of the divine — and even now those frescoes in cathedrals retain the power to take your breath away.
How cheap it would be to make art all about money, about what sells and how to market it. Of course, much of the “art world” and many “artists” are doing just that.
When I invite people to my art shows, it’s not with the hope that they will buy my paintings. I want to share my experiences, thoughts and emotions. I want to see if anyone connects. I hope to put some beauty out into the world.
We all have an opportunity to learn from art, to discover what moves us visually, to connect with communities even. Think about how molded your identity can be by music, politics, philosophies, religion. When you learn to be an artist, you do the same thing. You discover what symbols speak to you, what visions you have, what visual memories shaped who you are, what pictures hit you. Then, you form your own visual voice.
Everyone can do this — artist or not — and I believe everyone will benefit from this exploration.
Françoise Gilot, one of Picasso’s ex-wives who was an amazing painter and writer, quoted him as saying, “Painting isn’t an aesthetic operation. It’s a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange, hostile world and us, a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors as well as our desires.”
And can’t we all use a little more magic in our strange, hostile lives?