Why art? What’s the purpose of art? Why do you care about it? I have been asked these questions a few times. And I have struggled to answer. In reference to all art forms – drawings, paintings, poems, stories, music or movies.
I never had a clear answer to give. But I let it hang somewhere at the back of my mind. Whenever I tried to contemplate and frame an answer, I mostly failed to come up with anything relevant or meaningful. I wasn’t sure even if I believed in what I was saying.
But some answers stayed with me, true to my belief system and good explainers of my pursuit of art.
They were convincing but incomplete. Here’s why. I was trying to think about the meaning of art as an intellectual exercise. I was trying to rationally make sense of it. Why I do something that seems completely futile to many others? Why this pursuit had no meaning to many others? And why do many still enjoy various forms of arts, sometimes obsess over it, even as they go about making fun of the artist for creating it?
And then one day, the answer came to me. I was sitting in my room, not doing anything. I was looking at the trees and sky through the open window. I played some music. I could feel tears in my eyes. Very little, very mild. They came and vanished. Just a tiny moment that filled my heart with emotions.
I had a similar overwhelming reaction when I saw an original painting by Monet for the first time in my life. As I walked through the Museum and turned to reach the wall with that painting, my breath almost stopped. I gasped very quietly. For a few moments, I wasn’t aware of being in a public place. I couldn’t stop staring at it. And it happened again when I saw an original painting by Kusama and and then with another Monet. And it happened when I read a specific passage by Charles Dickens. And when I first heard ‘kind of blues’ by Miles Davis. I almost cried. It happens often with music.
It’s not sorrow. It’s not joy. It’s just a moment of feeling overwhelmed. It’s a moment filled with an emotion, something very real, very physical that doesn’t happen with anything else. I don’t know the name for it. Perhaps it’s just a moment that reminds me of my humanity and everything that it means, without using any words and without using any rational explanation.
The reason I care about art is because it makes the pain a little easier, the pain of being a human, of being alive. The reason I care about art is because it makes me aware of a deep sensation of awe for life. The reason art matters is because it can make one experience deep suffering and pure joy of being human.
The art allows me to experience one tiny moment of absolute true human emotion. I wonder if it happens to others. I am sure it does. Otherwise art wouldn’t continue to exist in the world over all these years.
It isn’t just about making your home pretty or investing in something precious that might appreciate in value over the years. It has the ability to touch something inside you, something human, something in your heart perhaps. Art allows me to feel overwhelmed with emotions, even the ones that I don’t understand very well with my rational thinking mind.
Art makes it easier to understand the pain of life and marvel at the magnificence of life. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.