“Life is short, art is long.” —Hippocrates
It’s an all-too-brief slog. Life is. Read any amount of history and two overarching themes that “jump” out are how transitory life is as well as how human beings have attempted to understand (convey) our condition. We’re conceived. We achieve consciousness. We die. In between we live. Concomitant is the fact that life is often brutal, violent and sorrowful.
Art is the attempt to make sense of it all. To give meaning. To express what is (reality), what could be (inspirational). And at times, what was. Art informs every aspect of our lives, from how we live, to how we see, hear and learn. We are talking art pieces, human canvases (mobiles) in which we display who we are and why we exist. Art is an individual or collaborative endeavor, but it is a collective, societal value requiring an awareness of, reverence for and support to flourish. Art is such an integral part of the human experience yet many take it for granted, much like the air we breathe.
How do you justify art in a world of sorrow? There are the many homeless with their hands forever out, begging at the ramps to our interstates. What of the wretched Kony kids of Uganda? The all-too-regular violence (shootings) in our cities and suburbs. Pervasive poverty. Our forever wars. Mindless acts of brutality. School massacres. Diseases. Our cancerous environment. Ad nauseum.
How do you justify art in a world of shrinking government budgets? Schools in disrepair. Cuts in school funding. Teachers/cops furloughed. Crowded roadways. Disintegrating infrastructure. Unfunded federal and state mandates (education/health care). Why art?
Why support culture (art and its creators)? Why give money or yourself to the art museum, the philharmonic, local theater or dance troupe? Why stand up and insist that our government (local/county/state/federal) fund the arts and culture at levels of support reflecting their inherent importance. Why art?
Why art? Winston Churchill’s finance minister recommended in Parliament during World War II that Britain cut arts funding to support the war effort. Allegedly, Churchill’s response was, “Then what are we fighting for?” Indeed. The veracity of Churchill’s retort is questioned but the sentiment is timeless.
Why art? The former prime minister of Canada, Jean Chretien, observed that, “An important measure of a great civilization, of a great society, is its contribution to humanity through the sciences and the arts, through its discoveries, its innovations, its cathedrals and canvasses, its stories and its music.”
Reflect for a just a moment on the history of our species. Ours is a history you can easily wrap your mind around. We’re a young species, writing for maybe 10,000 years, creating art for 40,000 years (see: the Venus of Hohle Fels). Many things surface (violence, war, famine, struggle) as one mentally chronicles our “journey.” But what stands out are our achievements in art. Whether it was the Greeks and their playwrights, Renaissance art, Elizabethan theater or French Impressionism, we measure ourselves and our culture by the art we create (foster).
Why art? Because all the pain and suffering will still be with us tomorrow. The degradation and humiliation, the sorrow associated with being human is our condition and our constant challenge.
Why art? Art is our best hope. It is the profound realization that “true” transcendence (beauty and grace) is possible.
Jepson is a 24-year resident of Florida. He’s fiscally conservative, socially liberal, likes art and embraces diversity of opinion. Reach him at Jepson@MEDIAmerica.US