Why Art Matters: Rebellion, Beauty, Life

Sorry, no great revelations coming, but as I’ve wandered the internet over the past couple of days, a couple of things caught my attention.

Sweeping things under the...?  Street image by Banksy
Sweeping things under the...? Street image by Banksy

A blog begun by a freelance writer here in Seattle asking the question: why does art matter?  (The blog post title comes from her.  Thanks, Rosie.)   It was mentioned in a Tweet from somewhere, and I went to look, and there have been four entries so far.  Most of the categories the questions engage are blank…no responses yet.   Got a tweet that could answer the “why art matters” question?  140 characters.  Give it a shot.  Leave it here, or leave it at Why Art Matters.  (Or, alternately, you can wax on for pages if you’ve got the passion.)

Banksy's Work on the West Bank
Banksy's Work on the West Bank

I’m not nearly as culturally literate as I let on to be, so I make discoveries lots of other people no doubt are already on top of, I get excited.  I’d never heard of Banksy, the British guerilla street artist who began his subversive work in the late 80’s, but who’s has been scoring major exhibitions since 2003.   Funny thing: no one knows who Banksy is, his real identity the subject of much discussion.   Primarily making his reputation as a graffiti artist, apparently Banksy alternates between making political and cultural statements on the street (dressing a blow-up doll as a Guantanamo Bay prisoner and sticking it on a ride at Disneyland, replacing Paris Hilton’s debut CD with 500 copies of his own CD with track titles like “Why am I Famous?”, “What Have I Done?”, and “What Am I For?”, creating a series of paintings on the West Bank Barrier, walking into the Louvre and hanging a ) and working what some might consider to be more “legitimate” pieces.   While city municipalities are constantly painting over his work, auctions fetch thousands of pounds for a “Banksy.”  Check it out.  Subversive for sure, but the man can paint, whoever he is.

And finally, I came across Amelia, a film of a dance piece by a postmodern dance company out of Quebec called La La La Human Steps. (One of the cooler websites I’ve seen in awhile, though I can’t read French.) Haven’t had time to watch the whole film on YouTube yet, but it’s pretty stunning work.   Haunting, harsh, angular, frenetic, and absolutely beautiful from what I can tell so far.   What does it mean?  I don’t know, but truth is, I don’t much care, at least not on first viewing.  I’ll reflect on it later.  Just now, I’m just thankful to stumble across something so arresting in the vast morass of all things dot-com.

Finally, back to the first question, why art matters.  Here’s a statement from a guy who wants to head to Bhutan to teach the kids to paint and draw, creating a model of arts education that can hopefully be replicated in that part of the world.  He needs $15,000 to do it.   He ends his plea with a quote from Alain Alias-Misson: “The purpose of art is not a rarified, intellectual distillate — it is life, intensified, brilliant life.”

Reminds me of what Jesus said:  “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.”  I may be stretching, but there’s a connection here for those who can find it.

How can art not matter?

3 Comments

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  1. Wow, I just watched the first part of Amelia. Wow. I still have chills. The dance, the expressions, the room. I have no idea what it means, but I was entranced.

    I think art is important for this very reason. We spend so much time in our own world, in our own heads, thinking a certain way. Art can remove us from that place and put us somewhere else, if only for a time. It can show us there are other things, other ways to see what is around us, and sometimes can reveal to us a truth we did not before see.

    Art can also illuminate beauty. Not all art IS beautiful, but I would argue that hideous art can still point to beauty. Unpack that one if you dare, Jeff. I am not adept enough to do so.

    The dance piece is beautiful, stark, tragic, aggressive, and almost violent. Even the poses of absolute stillness (the athlete in me is in awe of the woman’s strength to accomplish those still forms) have energy and anticipation in them. Amazing.

  2. cathi grandfield July 21, 2009 — 6:33 pm

    “Art is one of the ways in which we say, ‘I am alive, and my life has meaning.'”

    http://www.bostonconservatory.edu/s/940/Bio.aspx?sid=940&gid=1&pgid=1241

    Great thoughts, although I don’t agree with his conclusions…

    • Cathi,

      Thanks for the article. While I don’t agree with the finality of his conclusion, I like the direction of it. I’ve been using the medical school analogy with students for years, but not in quite the same way.

      Jeff

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