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  • Carroll Devine

Essence of Art

In the midst of recent and ever ongoing controversy about funding for the Arts, I find myself pondering, considering, as I’ve done many times, not only the extreme importance of art in my life, but also how I define art for myself.

I could never describe to anyone what that is. I can only recognize the emotional, spiritual, even visceral response I have when I experience what I call art. The meaning of art can only be a personal characterization because no definition exists that could contain all that art is and is not, for everyone, not even for me.

Going back centuries in time, the expectation was that art was skilled representation and imitation of nature. Eventually, it seems, the abstract ideas of artists became more important even than their skillful execution. Today, art completely defies the walls of any box to contain it.

Personally, I count on art to unveil beauty, uplift or inspire me, to move me and change me in some way by revealing a Truth. I want to be able to appreciate the palate, the mood, and the high skill of the artist that allows me to see what she sees, that wraps me up and transports me to somewhere I might not have been able to travel to except perhaps in Nature’s gallery itself. I want to feel the artist’s heart and soul.

Is that too much to ask of art? I think not.

Certainly, I feel that there’s room in cultural venues for an “artist” to merely express his or her frustration or malaise in some clever outburst. This form could be called by a different name – say, Underart? I admit though, to having a hard time accepting, as I once saw in an art gallery, two pieces of dried toast in a wire rack on a wall, as being even in that category.

Artists and writers have always had vastly different views of their expectations of art, whether it be representational, imitation or abstract. So, I researched to learn what some of the masters had to say. Paul Klee said that “Art does not reproduce the visible, rather, it makes visible.” Marc Chagall referred to the artist’s “unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers – and never succeeding.” For Georgia O’Keefe, it was “filling in a space in a beautiful way.”

American writer Saul Bellow said that “Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos.” The work of an artist, according French painter Jacques-Louis David, is “to give a body and a perfect form to one’s thought.”

Many would agree that art is an attempt at immortality, but I had to release that concept when my then seven-year old highly creative granddaughter came to visit and had me join her in her make-believe world. After pulling out from a drawer a number of my scarves, she wrapped some of them creatively around her body and announced that she was the “art teacher.” As she pranced and posed, she instructed me, and an imaginary other student, as to which scarves we could choose from and how to wear them.

The muses took over from there when she addressed her class. “If you want to know what art is…” (then she paused, dramatically, and with a surprisingly good British accent, she continued)… “It’s the necessity of goodness…”

I was appropriately stunned. Here was a most simple and profound definition I could easily live with.

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