Sunday, December 11, 2022

Is Art Important?

I was told recently that art is just a frill we don’t really need it. Certainly not the first time I have heard that. Michael Kimmelman, while he was art critic for The New York Times, wrote about the Christo Gates, (1978- realized in 2005). "Art is never necessary. It is merely indispensable". Again, I have picked a subject that books can and have been written about, but here is my brief take.

It seems that in the public mind the term “Art” is just paintings, drawings and maybe sculpture and lately photography. People don’t seem to remember the terminology “The Arts” which would include, theater, music, dance, literature and design and not necessarily in that order. An emotionally moving piece of music and theater is a song that stirs me to want to march along. It is from the musicle, Les Misérables, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

What is special about art? On a site called “Artwork Archive” I found this definition, “Art allows us to examine what it means to be human, to voice and express, and to bring people and ideas together.” When I asked a friend in Valentine, Nebraska why art was necessary, he wrote “Art makes us think and feel at the same time. It can provoke a vehemently repulsive response”, think of images regarding Ukraine today, “but it can also calm us and remind us of who we are or where we came from.”

The power of the visual is seen in the instinct of children to collect pebbles or shells. Visual art adds on an emotional and intellectual response. Then comes the desire to preserve and collect this evidence of times gone by.

As I mentioned in my Missive on Ukraine Banksy has been going around the country of Ukraine painting murals on the walls of buildings that have been bombed by the Russians. What better way to call attention to man’s inhumanity to man and I am quite sure some will be preserved in situ, even after the war.

Every culture has some form of ceramic art. Much of Native American culture has roots in the art of this medium I wrote recently about the exhibition “Grounded in Clay” In the first half of the 18th century both France and Germany went into competition establishing international prestige through their royal porcelain factories of Sèvres & Meissen. Their products are still appreciated while the factories continue innovating today. Historic pieces in this media teach future generations not only of ways people ate and drank but also what was considered of intangible value. 

Knowledge in all areas of life is based on what we have learned from the past and art could be considered the greatest teacher. My father talked about Grete Ring (1887-1952) who was one of the first women to study art history. Earning her doctorate under the famous German art historian Heinrich Wölfflin , she was highly regarded as a scholar and critic. From 1921 on she worked as an art dealer. Her comment on the subject sums it up for me, "Why should one talk about art, if not to open the eyes of others to it".

The statue of Laocoön and His Sons, this nearly life size marble sculpture was excavated in Rome in 1506 and placed on public display in the Vatican Museums where it remains. Whether it was created by the Greeks or Romans is under debate but there is little question that its origins go back to the Greeks. History, through its art, lives on.

What is it we remember from past civilizations? What has been preserved? … it is their art.

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