What major need I am fulfilling with my art (besides my own)? What problem am I solving through my paintings?
Answering these questions is key in focusing my intent of my art practice, as well as targeting my marketing efforts.
I have grappled with these questions. When I taught art at the public schools, or even through the Steamboat Art Museum Education Outreach program, it was an easy answer. Art education is fundamental to the development of well-rounded citizens who understand complex problems and have myriad tools to solve them. Any outreach with kids that helps them develop their creative voice is important, for all of us.
However, now that I am a full-time professional artist, making my case for how I spend my day is a little harder. I know that I am fulfilling my own passions, finding my own voice, but what good does that do everyone else? How am I contributing? What problems am I solving? It has to be more important than just putting another pretty picture on the wall.
Then, listening to a report about our 3rd Industrial Revolution (the dot-com boom) on Freakonomics, it hit me. We humans are equally enamored with and terrified of our new technology. We hungrily check our smart phones for updates and notifications. And yet, we are fearful of computers taking away our jobs, our choice, our humanness. That’s where art comes in.
Technology can drive our cars, but it cannot create paintings. Sure, images can be rendered digitally, that’s true. But I am talking about paintings. Real-life, juicy brushstrokes. Paintings that capture my view of the world and the sometimes heart-wrenching process of putting that view on a canvas with colors and values and lines. This kind of hand-made interaction with the world can only be done by a human.
So, I am here to say that the true purpose of my art, the true need it fulfills is this:
“Helping people stay human through art.”
When your eyes need a break from those screens, when our souls yearn for something rich and real, just look at a painting. It will help.
Here is the text from David Brooks:
The Power of Art in a Political Age
March 2, 2023
By David Brooks, NYT Opinion Columnist
I sometimes feel I’m in a daily struggle not to become a shallower version of myself. The
first driver of shallowization is technology, the way it shrinks attention span, fills the day
with tempting distractions. The second driver is the politicization of everything. Like a
lot of people, I spend too much of my time enmeshed in politics — the predictable
partisan outrages, the campaign horse race analysis, the Trump scandal du jour.
So I’m trying to take countermeasures. I flee to the arts.
I’m looking for those experiences we all had as a kid: becoming so enveloped by an
adventure story that you refuse to put it down to go have dinner; getting so exuberantly
swept up in some piece of music that you feel primeval passions thumping within you;
encountering a painting so beautiful it feels like you’ve walked right into its alternative
The normal thing to say about such experiences is that you’ve lost yourself in a book or
song — lost track of space and time. But it’s more accurate to say that a piece of art has
quieted the self-conscious ego voice that is normally yapping away within. A piece of art
has served as a portal to a deeper realm of the mind. It has opened up that hidden,
semiconscious kingdom within us from which emotions emerge, where our moral
sentiments are found — those instant, aesthetic-like reactions that cause us to feel
disgust in the presence of cruelty and admiration in the presence of generosity.
The arts work on us at that deep level, the level that really matters. You give me
somebody who disagrees with me on every issue, but who has a good heart — who has
the ability to sympathize with others, participate in their woes, longings and dreams —
well, I want to stay with that person all day. You give me a person who agrees with me
on every particular, but who has a cold, resentful heart — well, I want nothing to do with
him or her.
Artists generally don’t set out to improve other people; they just want to create a perfect
expression of their experience. But their art has the potential to humanize the beholder.
How does it do this?
First, beauty impels us to pay a certain kind of attention. It startles you and prompts you
to cast off the self-centered tendency to always be imposing your opinions on things. It
prompts you to stop in your tracks, take a breath and open yourself up so that you can
receive what it is offering, often with a kind of childlike awe and reverence. It trains you
to see the world in a more patient, just and humble way. In “The Sovereignty of Good,”
the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch writes that “virtue is the attempt to pierce the
veil of selfish consciousness and join the world as it really is.”
Second, artworks widen your emotional repertoire. When you read a poem or see a piece
of sculpture, you haven’t learned a new fact, but you’ve had a new experience. The
British philosopher Roger Scruton wrote, “The listener to Mozart’s Jupiter symphony is
presented with the open floodgates of human joy and creativity; the reader of Proust is
led through the enchanted world of childhood and made to understand the uncanny
prophecy of our later griefs which those days of joy contain.”
These experiences furnish us with a kind of emotional knowledge — how to feel and how
to express feelings, how to sympathize with someone who is grieving, how to share the
satisfaction of a parent who has seen her child grow.
Third, art teaches you to see the world through the eyes of another, often a person who
sees more deeply than you do. Sure, Picasso’s “Guernica” is a political piece of art, about
an atrocity in the Spanish Civil War, but it doesn’t represent, documentarylike, an exact
scene in that war. It goes deeper to give us an experience of pure horror, the universal
experience of suffering, and the reality of human bloodlust that leads to it.
Of course “Invisible Man” is a political novel about racial injustice, but as Ralph Ellison
later wrote, he was trying to write not just a novel of racial protest, but also a “dramatic
study in comparative humanity which I felt any worthwhile novel should be.”
I haul myself off to museums and such with the fear that in a political and technological
age, the arts have become less central to public life, that we don’t seem to debate novels
and artistic breakthroughs the way people did in other times, that the artistic and
literary worlds have themselves become stultified by insular groupthink, and this has
contributed to the dehumanization of American culture.
But we can still stage our mini-rebellions, kick our political addictions from time to
time, and enjoy the free play of mind, the undogmatic spirit and the heightened and
adrenalized states of awareness that the best art still provides. Earlier this year I visited
the Edward Hopper show at the Whitney a couple of times, and I got to see New York
through that man’s eyes — the spare rooms on side streets, and the isolated people
inside. I forget most of what I read, but those images stay vivid in the mind.