We need art because, well— we do.
Maybe that answer seems too short, too simple, too circular; maybe it seems to be deficient in substance, incomplete, an answer our grade school teachers would mark us for. Maybe it seems not a worthwhile (or actual) answer at all.
…But isn’t it true?
This post—an initiation of The Blooming Artist Gallery & Instruction’s blog— is titled deliberately: “Why Do We Need Art?” It is not: “Do We Need Art?” Nay; our title presupposes that we do need art— no question. Rather, the question is why? Why is art a necessity? And— what is art? This last question (depending on the audience, environment, and time) has certainly proven to be controversial— an understatement? That said, we’ll be focusing on the “why” in this post and the “what” in another. We invite you to continue reading and ponder with us the answer(s).
There have been countless discussions before ours (and there will be countless discussions after ours, no doubt) that investigated our need for art through various lenses: evolutionary, biochemically, spiritually, etc. Yet no matter the perspective, this “why” seems elusive. Indeed, that there are many answers from many perspectives that all may seem true renders finding “the” answer akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Now: must there be a “the” answer? Can’t there be many answers? From our perspective, yes and no. Yes— there can be many answers… but no— there must be an answer that is like a keystone (one that gives support to the rest). We propose that our opening line is the keystone answer. We need art because we do. This need is inextricable from being human— a definitively intrinsic need recognized by our human condition. It is the only answer that gives support to the many others. Here are some other answers (and we’d love for you to share yours in the comments!):
Art teaches us how to see.
Whether from the perspective of viewer, artist, or both, we learn how to see rather than just look from artwork. By nature, art is meant to be created and seen. Art is intentional, and when we make it or view it we are aware of this. It is this reason, perhaps, that makes us pause in front of what used to be a blank canvas or block of raw clay. Whether or not we like what we see, we choose to see. Maybe we notice how the pink color from the foliage is reflected on the undersides of the clouds; how certain shapes are repeated in the individual parts to yield a harmonious whole; how the glaze “blemish” makes the work stand out from the rest. Maybe we notice that the piece seems absolutely perfect and complete, or maybe we notice a gross imperfection or an artistic move we wouldn’t have made again. Why did the artist make that choice? What was the reason? Was it intentional, or accidental? Does it look the way the artist (or I) intended it to? Maybe when we see the artwork again (whether ours or another’s), what we see changes. Regardless of this all, art teaches us how to look until we see. It’s lesson is about awareness, curiosity, observation, open-mindedness, and patience (not exhaustive). And we can take what we’ve learned from this lesson outside the art gallery, local coffee shop, museum, etc. and let it change the way we view the world. Maybe we see the gradient blues in the mountains as we drive to work that we’ve been too preoccupied to notice previously. Maybe we see the depths of the values created by the tree branches’ shadows on our sunset walk. Maybe we see the perfect symmetry of a blooming flower bud. Whatever we see, we notice that art is all around us— if we choose to see it.
Art reflects our own humanity (and all that this is).
From another’s point of view, art mirrors to us what it means to be human. It connects us all in such an inextricable way: both artist and viewer share this humanity, albeit through different lenses; while there are two perspectives, both become joined upon the artwork viewing. Think about it— can you separate your own perspective (expectations, assumptions, likes and dislikes, etc.) when viewing art from that of the artist? The majority of the time we probably don’t even know the artist, so the answer is no. Yet for those of us who do know the artist well and who do know the expressive intent of the artwork… is the answer still not (always) no? And what about vice-versa? For any artists all who are reading (we’re all artists in our own ways!), have others ever made a comment about your artwork that showed you an unexpected perspective? We all see the world uniquely; our experiences color what we see. Art reminds us, even if unconsciously so, that our perception is not “the” perception. And, thus, art checks us if we let it: our perception as “a” perception serves to remind us that we don’t have all the answers, that we aren’t necessarily “right,” and that this is perfectly alright.
Art is the ultimate expression of the human condition.
Art, as both a teacher and a mirror, is an expression of the condition of being human. It serves to show us how to see from others’ viewpoints, how to see others, how to see ourselves, how to be good humans, and what it means to be good. Maybe we “see” the struggle that the artist must have went through after we ourselves learned the technique in a workshop; maybe we “see” the number on the price tag after trying our own hands on the potter’s wheel; maybe we still don’t agree with the composition, but can “see” the artist’s decision. Maybe we “see” that the struggle was integral to the product; that the true value is honestly immeasurable; that art needn’t follow all the rules. Art shows us what truly matters in a world that may seem determined to distract us. We connect through art— with each other, with the world, and with ourselves. As both makers and partakers of art, we are molded into the best version of ourselves (if we choose to be). Art, like life, is a series of choices; hopefully, we always choose to learn from the consequences, care compassionately, forgive freely, and progress patiently. It challenges us to ask “why,” even when the answer seems near-impossible to pinpoint.
In closing, we need art because we do— because art is nothing more, nor nothing less, than an expression of our shared humanity; it is a fundamental need inseparable from our being. And art, the same as love, defies reason; to the logical mind, “because we do” isn’t an answer to why we need them… even though it is.