I am staying in this really cool hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, called 21C. It’s a museum dedicated to 21st century art, so as you can imagine, there is art everywhere. As I ate dinner by myself in the absolutely yummiful hotel restaurant called Proof, gazing at amazing and bizarre horse photographs (with a wonderful video loop of a kid eating soup projected onto a painted table and chairs on the wall), I was reminded that art is so inspiring and important. It IS essential to the human spirit, and here’s why:
1. Art makes you think. I thought about what the artist was trying to say. I thought about how he or she did that. I thought about why I like some things and not others. Even art I don’t like makes me think about why.
2. Art takes you places. There was a huge color photo of a South African man and a little girl. She was resting her head on a hyena. He was pulling back the hyena’s gums to show its teeth. I could almost taste the dust, sense the heat and the smell. I was almost there.
3. Art makes you feel something. I have felt so many things while looking at art—longing, lust, empathy, anger, disgust, desire, connection. Even art-induced ennui, which is rare, is a certain feeling—a feeling of not feeling.
4. Art makes you look. It’s hard to walk by art and not look at it. And then it makes you really look at it and wonder…everything from “what were they thinking?” to “who were they?” and “why did they do that?”….
5. Art makes you laugh. Well, not all the time, but sometimes.
6. Art makes you realize people are fundamentally the same around the world and throughout all time. Sure, a lot of stuff is different. But pictures of children, naked women, pets, and pretty landscapes have a universal appeal. All people from all cultures seem to have a desire to capture those things and hold onto them, remember them, because…
7. Art lasts longer than most things. It certainly lasts longer than a good meal—unless it’s a painting of a good meal. I love those little stone statues of fat naked women from 40,000 years ago because…I don’t know, even back then, people liked art of naked ladies. Long after we are gone, people might see paintings or photos of our faces and feel a connection to us. I love miniatures for that reason: Before photography, people carried little paintings around. Just images of normal people who were loved enough to have someone paint them. Sweet.
8. Art feels so good to make. The other day, I bought a drum from a Native American drum maker. He asked me if I was an artist, and I stumbled on my answer. I wanted to say yes, but don’t know if I deserve the title. Then I realized it doesn’t matter…if it feels like I make art, then I am an artist. And it feels good. Whether I am planting an outdoor landscape, painting (which I occasionally still do), or drawing a design for something, I know it’s one of the best feelings in the world.
9. You don’t need language to understand it. Walking around with one of those museum iPod things can be helpful in understanding art, but it’s not really necessary. Sure, it’s good to understand context and history. But sometimes it’s just good to look. And whether the art is European, African, Asian, Australian, American, or Icelandic, it doesn’t need words. In fact…
10. Art says things that words just can’t say. Art shows things that words can’t say: How a sunset really looked 300 years ago, how people dressed 1,000 years ago, and how they carried their bodies; how an anonymous woman might have felt about an anonymous man or anonymous child in a strange land. What pain looks like. What heartache looks like. What desire looks like. What love looks like. What the world did look like and what it could look like.