About a week back (more or less), I was witness to one of those curious interchanges that occasionally leapfrogs its way across social media. This one was about art. Insults were exchanged, friendships were broken, and both sides rushed to sooth the wounded. Pretty typical. But its commentary on art and its placement in society got me thinking.
Since I make my living on art, I figured I might as well jot those thoughts down.
I’ve probably heard this about a few thousand times over the years (maybe I exaggerate a bit, but probably not): the birth of human culture is found in art. Not tools, not domestication of fire, or habitats or funerals or settlement or brain weight or body type or agriculture. Art. Some consider art proof of ‘abstract thought’ and most recognize art as a skill that combines both technical expertise and imagination to evoke a visceral response. It’s how our ancestors talked to their children across vast seas of time. It’s how cultures first talk to each other; through analyzing their aesthetic.
The first recognized arts are visual, blobs of paints on different media from stone to bone, exquisite in their window onto the lives of ancient cultures. Writing is the far-removed, bastard step-child. It’s a visual media that takes lines and curves to create hallucinations (the much better quote is from @KatieOldham is below) that are vaguely consensual among users. It condenses visual information down to two-dimensional points and still manages to explode it across a person’s cortex, transporting them across time, space and sanity.
Ever realised how fucking surreal reading a book actually is? You stare at marked slices of tree for hours on end, hallucinating vividly
— grumplestiltskin (@KatieOldham) December 9, 2014
Given the power of such artifice, that it literally forms the foundation of human culture and arguably forms the glue that binds societies’ current forms together, why, oh why, are terms “artist” and “starving” ever used together? Why is funding cut for art in school? Why are young adults wanting to go to art school considered to be childish dreamers, as opposed to fearless visionaries, which is much closer to the truth? After all, art is quite possibly entirely why we are human.
Animals require three things in this world. First, a healthy body, able to deal with the various standard challenges of the day. Whether it’s waking up when the stimulus is right, understanding how to find food that keeps you going, to recognizing your own physical needs for comfort or family. A healthy mind is next up, a net of input that is filtered by that organ (in whatever form it takes) to allow one to sift through one’s relationship to the environment. Food vs. medicine vs. threat vs location. The last piece of the trilogy is the heart, which holds the core of memories, allowing things to connect to you, whether it’s lovers or friends or foe. It both warms and warns an animal, affecting the behavior.
Yeah, fine… but what does this have to do with art? Art is the ability to make our own personal environment interactive, mutual. It’s our attempt to reach out and connect proactively to the Other. To any Other. Whether it’s the girl you want to woo, the other band of humans (or Neanderthals or Denivosans or Norwegians), that head of cattle, or that pack of wolves, it’s art that gets you there. Art is the cauldron within which body, heart and mind cook and combine to produce a healthy human. We produce Art to interact with the world around us and you can look at the world around us to see where our current art is targeted.
You want to know where all the non-starving artists are? In marketing. In graphic design. In advertising. In legal writing. In tech writing. In convincing you that there is no world out there, save the one we make, in which there are things you can consume, manufacture or trash. The primary art of this culture, and it’s been this way for a long time but not forever, is mirrors and obfuscation.
This places creative art in the service of rebellion. Sometimes it’s productive; sometimes it’s futile. But like all the revolutions, the folks in charge / the folks invested in the system will consider it childish. They will ridicule it, even as they buy little bits and pieces of it to consume. They will let talent starve to prove how ‘unrealistic’ their talent is.
That’s why, at my core, I applaud anyone who takes up the pen or the brush or the camera or the instrument and completes something. Even attempting is worthwhile. It’s been in our blood for so long, it’s ingrained in us and for good reason. And it is the best way to reclaim our selves from a society that threatens to devour us.