There are more than a few conflicting opinions within the art world of what exactly constitutes art, or at least fine art. All of these opinions spring from personal prejudices; how could they not? A person who spends his life studying the intricacies of Rembrandt may well have little time for the tongue-in-cheek pop-art of Andy Warhol. The old argument that modern artists lack the skill and depth of great masters simply does not hold water. Picasso could have spent his lifetime knocking off one classic copy after another had he liked; he had every bit as complete a mastery of materials and technique. Many of the so-called classic works are dull and boring works-made-for-hire by artists who are loved only by their curators, or worse, whose work is mere decorative fillip for a cathedral or church building, of no more impact or importance than a colored Xerox of a doe-eyed, Wal-Mart-framed, Walter Keane hanging in a demo double-wide.
There are two primary things that attract me to art. First, there is the gobsmack factor, the thing that happens to you when you realize how very difficult this thing was to imagine, design, and implement. You sit transfixed before it and know that if you worked as hard as you could, if you had the very best teachers in the world and the commitment of Job and the budget of Solomon and eternity to get it finished you still would not be able to do this thing. When that realization comes over you, you are gobsmacked, my friend. At this point you either carry on to become a full on worshipper and fan, or you begin the equally human response (since the work itself is unassailable) of looking for flaws in the artist’s personal comportment.
Now the gobsmack element is very important. It is the element that makes careers and sells entries to shows and memberships to museums. But of my two attractors, it is the lesser. The number one thing that attracts me to art is the nearly universal impulse on the part of mankind to create. Everyone wants to create. Whether people believe there is a God or not is immaterial, people want to be able to do the things this God does. They want to imagine a thing and lo! It is so!
We have watched the inexorable march of egalitarianism take over the creative arts in the last several centuries. To use music as an example, we have gone from the complexities of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart to country, rock, pop, and hip-hop. No one seriously compares these forms, but there is little doubt that these latter four most belong to the people and make the most money. I think part of what attracts us to these is the idea that, hey, maybe we could do that. You don’t listen to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor and think, “I should go home and write my own fugue.” But many a trucker has listened to Willie Nelson and thought, “I could write one of them songs.” And often, he can.
There used to be gatekeepers for the formal industries which suckled from the artist’s breast. They decided who got in and who stayed out. Sometimes the talent was so great that they had no say in the matter, but usually not. Even Picasso had Gertrude Stein for a rabbi, someone to represent him as great to the people who controlled his access to the art world. Singers, writers, painters, dancers, designers, actors, directors are swarmed by people who all take a little piece in return for which they supposedly manage something. But those days are threatened and in years to come may vanish altogether.
Every day across the world artists are finding new ways to be creative. The streets are throbbing with the energy of a youth which is only now really comprehending how much freer they might be than they have ever been. Art is in riot. The streets are filled with it. And if you haven’t noticed, then you might want to start paying attention. It may have the extravagance of Big Bang Big Boom, or it might be the simple beauty of singing in the streets. Everywhere it is our children, our young learning to think and express in new and exciting ways. Life affirming ways.
In this season of mercantilism draping itself in the robes of holiness, remember that God, however you grapple with the concept, is still out there. In the streets. In a song. In a picture. Even in a goofy dance with Matt. Every link I’ve shared with you today is one which leaves me gobsmacked. They were all created out of no more than a sense of joy and love. They were all done just to make me happy, to make me a better person. And you, too. Now, that is what I call a Christmas gift.
Merry Christmas, and peace on earth to everyone.