January 13 – Ars Gratia Artis

01-13 Ars Gratia Artis post

Art for its own sake. It’s a cavalier expression that has ascended the mantle to cliché. I understand that it follows, perhaps correctly, that this is the motto of the unserious artist or hobbyist. The expression is employed almost as a throw-away, to explain away unimaginative works. It can even seem dismissive, like the art student who mutters these famous last words after the critique: “You just don’t get what I do, man.”

I’ve met many artists who cloak themselves in intellectualism & self-aggrandizement, and gravitate towards the hot-button political issue of their day. If you dislike their work, then you must not be intelligent enough to appreciate its brilliance. Go to any university art department, throw a rock, and you’re bound to hit one. Their passion and intensity disappear pretty quickly once they leave the classroom. That great big world out there, and the time spent trying to cobble together a living, extinguishes the ambitions of a lot of young artists. This is a sad fact of life. But consider the possibility that it also separates the wheat from the chaff. Some people go to art school because it’s the cool thing to do before graduating and going to work for the family business. My studio art classes were filled to the brim with people who had no interest in pursuing a career in the arts, and my education suffered because of them.

That being said, I believe in art for art’s sake. It’s a declaration that has lost its meaning through repetition, possibly the result of our current social or political climate. Our leadership often disregards the arts as being impractical, unproductive, and unimportant. The National Endowment for the Arts has a long history of falling under attack. Attempts are made, routinely, to defund arts programs; in public education, it’s generally understood that when budgets are cut, the arts are the first to hit the chopping block. The arts aren’t mentioned on capital hill much, either. When discussing education infrastructure, our leaders have been focusing heavily of STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math). What we fail to realize, time and again, is that creativity and creative problem solving are integral to each one of those disciplines.

Trying to make something where there was nothing before requires a kind of risk. Risk of failure and embarrassment. But risk is critically important in order to develop skill. The act of creating – be it a haiku or a bar napkin doodle, a piano melody or The Mona Lisa – is an instinctual behavior. It’s part of what makes us human. When we talk about culture, we typically aren’t talking about politics or GDP – usually we’re talking about music and dance, architecture, literature, religious artifacts and great big paintings and sculptures. We are all artists, but our creative instincts are all-too-often beaten out of us by our education, by a political and social climate that devalues or disregards it.

Today’s picture is a photograph intentionally taken out-of-focus. I layered another photograph on top to add texture. It is a photograph in the most basic sense, in that it’s a two-dimensional image of color and light. Like all abstract artwork, it is in no way functional, and serves no other purpose than to be looked at. The hope is that my audience finds it interesting to look at. The hope is that it sparks a memory or stirs an emotion. The beauty part is that this image can mean a million things to a million people, and I can appreciate that kind of ambiguity from time to time.

Until tomorrow, I hope you have a creative day.


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