For much of my life I considered “art” to be a waste of time, money, effort and brainpower, not understanding why anyone with half a brain would pay thousands, in some cases millions of dollars for a painting that looks to have been done by a 4 year old child, or one that consists of random paint-splatters, or one that’s called “Who’s afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?”
But it seems that I was the one with half a brain. I still don’t see the value in a lot of “art”, and I still struggle with the definition. In most online dictionaries it is described as follows:
the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. – source: Oxford Dictionaries
My question is then: appreciated by whom? Does the artist create something that he or she finds beautiful or emotionally powerful, or something that others might find beautiful or emotionally powerful, or both? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, does it even matter? And what about appreciating the skills involved? I can make two straight lines on a white square and come up with a better title than “Lozenge Composition with Two Lines”, heck, I’ll even throw in a third line for free… Nah, that’s a cheap shot; Mondriaan was a skilled painter and also made beautiful (in my eyes) paintings of trees and landscapes.
But that’s not the point. The urge to express is the point. The transformation of an intangible thought, feeling or concept in one’s mind into a tangible, material form. This is a deep seeded urge existent in each and every one of us. Mondriaan wanted to communicate a concept, a state of mind, an emotion, not to anyone in particular, but to the universe and himself.
Why are social media so successful? Why do I write these posts? Sitting here behind my desk I don’t have a target audience in mind. I’m just satisfying a need to express myself, to perform that most human of actions: to transform thoughts into actions to affect that universe with my presence. But that doesn’t make me an artist; while I do try to choose my words, sometimes more carefully than other times, there’s no intention to create something aesthetically pleasing or emotionally powerful. I doubt if I’m even capable of that, and that’s the difference between me and an artist.
The observation that the communication, the artistic expression is not aimed at anyone in particular, was confirmed by an artist I recently discovered on YouTube in a video called “The Secret Life and Art of Henry Darger”. This man wrote an epic story of 150,000 pages, complete with countless illustrations, paintings, collages and drawings, about the classic struggle between good and evil. His art now sells for millions of dollars, but on his death bed he told his landlord to just throw it all away. The title was as huge as the manuscript itself: “The Story of the Vivian Girls in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion”…
For 40 years Henry Darger has worked on his life’s work with no other goal than the creative process itself. He created for creation’s sake. He felt an urge to share part of his inner self with the material universe. He wasn’t performing for an audience, because he never told anyone about it, and when it was discovered he thought it most fitting to let his work die with him. Well, the universe disagreed. Or actually the landlord’s wife disagreed and refused to throw the art away. The story of Darger and his art is exceptional, as can be seen in the video: