“Art is necessary in order that man should be able to recognize and change the world. But art is also necessary by virtue of the magic inherent in it.” – Ernst Fischer
We all want to progress. No one wants their gravestone’s inscription to be, “This person existed for a while without making any changes, made no connections, and nobody noticed their absence.” We all want to grow, to overcome the obstacles we face, to touch others’ lives, to be significant.
We all want to make a difference.
We all want the stories of our lives to be meaningful stories. A hero’s journey with transformations and achievements.
But often, we don’t know how to navigate our life stories.
That’s where art comes into play.
What Is Art?
We, humans, for some irrational yet evolutionary-wise reason, don’t see our lives as a system of rules and applications. When we’re asked to describe our lives, the answer never sounds like a random list of circumstances and actions. Instead, we narrate our lives as stories. We add up our bunch of anecdotes to create a coherent (though fairly jumpy) narrative.
Moreover, we want our life stories to progress, and to have a happy ending (preferably with no saddening disasters in the middle, too).
We want happy lives. Is it too much to ask for?
Well, unfortunately, parts of our lives’ courses are not in our hands. But even the parts that are up to us, require us to gain knowledge. In order to create a happy story for ourselves and for the people around us, we have to learn. Unsurprisingly, our preferred way of learning, and our efficient way of remembering, is through stories.
That’s what art does.
Art teaches us how to live better, and it does it emotively.
Art is any sincere, meaningful saying, conveyed originally through moving experience.
It can be a simple saying, for instance, that nature is stunning, shown in a photograph of a fly.
It can also be a long and complicated saying, like the seven lengthening books of Harry Potter, which show (among other things) how evil behaves and disguises itself.
Anyway, whether these sayings are tiny or giant, cute or gross, uplifting or terrifying, we need them all to know how to lead our lives. As Eyran Katsenelenbogen puts it,
Through art we make tomorrow better.
We need art to know how to be humans.
We need it to know how to be happy.
We need all of these teachings.
Why All of Us Actually Need Art?
Art exists wherever a person has something to say, and chooses to say it by creating a story or other experience. Amazingly, we all do it unthinkingly. We all comfort our loved ones by telling them about similar experiences we went through. We all relate to the people around us by describing relevant occurrences. That’s how we connect with each other – through stories and experiences, through art.
It’s not always good art, admittedly, but it’s art nevertheless. As Leo Tolstoy writes,
Art is one of the means of effective communication between people.
Essentially, we’re all artists. Professional artists are simply the ones who take the time, years and decades, to develop their creative skills, and to create strong, complicated works of art. (Some forms of arts, like movies or ballet, could not exist at all without professional complicated productions.)
But art belongs to all of us.
And we all need it.
Why Do We Believe That We Don’t Need Art?
Art is commonly mistaken to be useless. Many people even think that this is what defines art, a creation of no materialistic use whatsoever. (As if a house or a meal can’t be both practical and entertainingly meaningful masterpieces.)
Most people think that art is only what happens in fancy galleries and concert halls. That it is nothing but a shallow, egoistic hedonism. That its main goal is to be a decoration rich people (and pompous critics) use to feel elevated above us all.
These claims are not utterly wrong, of course. Art is, indeed, used by many desperate douchebags to feel superior over everybody else. But art doesn’t belong only to some pretentious snobs. It has numerous shapes and expressions that serve us all, such as songs, memes, architecture, movies, stand-ups, graffiti, series, metaphors, photos, stories, cooking, clips, dances, poetry, plays, books, sculptures, music, and so on and so forth.
Can you imagine your life without it?
Probably not. Because we can’t live without art.
The problem is with mistaking art to be nothing but an ornament. When people think that art is a luxury; that it has no real part in our lives, and therefore we can give it up when it’s inconvenient. Nowadays, since the Coronavirus hit the world, art and artists were the first ones to go. Not only because many kinds of art require forbidden audiences, but also because the people who make the decisions regarding our shrinking budgets thoughtlessly cut art out. Governments did it with our public budgets. We did it with our personal ones.
As if we could have a good life without art.
As if we could have any life at all without it.
How Does Art Work?
Art is as diverse as the variations of sayings we want to say to each other (whether or not we want to listen).
Therefore, art can be our guide, our teacher, our conscience. As George Bernard Shaw says,
Art is the magic mirror you make to reflect your invisible dreams in visible pictures. You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul.
Art can help us understand our way. It can help us make our choices. It can help us get the courage to do whatever we want to do. It comforts us when we suffer, and gives us hope. As Alejandro Jodorowsky said,
For art to be art it has to cure.
For that reason, even in the worst times of humanity – in the ghettoes during the holocaust – theaters, music and other art forms flourished. As Ray Bradbury said,
While our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.
Art connects people, and it is what brings us all together. Art is the stories behind our family connections, behind our friendships and rivalries, behind our societies and organizations. It creates the common imaginary that ties us together and enable us to work together.
Art lies at the base of our culture, our history, our cooperation, our morality. As Albert Einstein said,
All religions, arts and sciences are…directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom…They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force.
Art is our memories and our visions.
Art is what connects our moments, our locations, our people.
No wonder we all need it.
No wonder we use it all the time.
Who Wouldn’t Want Art?
One of art’s main roles is to expose the truth and to call for a change. Hence, it is a huge threat for rulers who need our ignorance to hide their demolition of democracy, or their corruption. That’s why many rulers ( not naming any names) used the pandemic to destroy art. As art also connects people, leaders who use ‘divide and rule’ strategy don’t fancy it, either.
But our current villains are not the only people who have trouble with art. The fact that any work of art must have a saying is also a common problem, because too many people don’t want to hear other opinions. Most of us, as a matter of fact, have a hard time listening to opinions we disagree with. Therefore, sooner or later, art tends to be a pain in the ass for almost everyone.
But rebelliousness and disagreements are not the only reasons people have trouble with art. Because if art was only used for pleasure, to show the beauty and happiness in life, to broaden our perspectives and experiences, we would all be approving it.
Most of us, at least.
But unfortunately, art tends to be innovative. It often shows us the world from alternative points of view. It criticizes our conceptions and reality. It awakens our conscience. As Eric Kandel said,
The function of the modern artist was not to convey beauty, but to convey new truths.
Good art often startles us, saddens us, irritates us.
It takes the place of our former prophet’s wrath.
And it’s very inconvenient.
We don’t want people to show us what’s wrong. We don’t want to meet a reality that requires us to change. We don’t want to know that we should make an effort.
Indeed, we don’t want it.
But, nevertheless, we need it.
Because we can neither survive, nor flourish, without truth.
What Should We Do With Art, Then?
We better, therefore, realize what a colossal place art takes in our lives.
We better treasure art as the guide, the prophet, and the aid it is for us all.
We better care for art, and prevent its current catastrophic decline. Now, more than ever, we should demand our leaders to support art and artists.
Moreover, for the sake of our lives and our future, we better consume art in our daily lives.
We better celebrate it.
We better let it grow us.
One work of art at a time.
One adventurous insight at a time.