What IS Art?

A friend of mine called me the other day, from one of those mass-produced “art” sections in a major chain retail store.  She wanted my opinion on some prints she was considering for her walls at home.  She wanted to text me a picture from her phone.  “You know your art, Stephanie, should I buy this one?”

“No!”  I replied without hesitation.  “Please don’t buy that–unless, of course, you happen to absolutely love it.  But, if that was the case, you probably wouldn’t be calling me.”

Art seems to be a confusing topic in the United States.  Yes, it’s all around us, but our culture doesn’t really encourage us to recognize it as such.

Throughout Europe, on the other hand, people are raised right into the soul of art–breathing in the layers of art and its history, from the walls to the streets surrounding them.  Not to mention all the master artworks that live around every corner.

But here in the United States, our story is a younger one.  Our nation simply hasn’t been around long enough to build up the centuries of art history as European countries have. And it seems as if the Puritans forgot to bring it with them when they fled Europe, seeking their religious freedoms…almost as if they forgot it mattered.

Today, art programs are the first to go during school budget cuts.  We Americans have to pursue art, on our own accord to know it intimately–or at all.

After pursuing my own relationship with art for 13 years, I’ve been able to form some opinions on the subject.  To me, art must have soul–it has to stir an emotional response within me. Art is the result of an artist’s personal passionate pursuit–and in that place where passion meets skill is where I find true art… and it moves me.

You don’t need to know anything about art to know what you like.  “But, what is art?”  Your answer can be found in the questioning.  The more you expose yourself to the arts, the stronger your desire to learn grows. As you embark on that magical journey of discovery, your ideas and opinions grow clearer, and your own definition of art will begin to appear.

So, what ever happened with my dear friend and her bare walls, you ask? After the phone intervention, I invited her over to begin her own relationship with art.  Since her budget didn’t really allow for original pieces, we went through some of my prints and found a few that really spoke to her.  We also had some fun getting her hands dirty and playing around with paint to create some of her own masterpieces.  Her walls are now adorned in a deeply personal way with art that really means something to her.

I invite you to begin your own dialogue with art.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Take a trip to the library or Google around and familiarize yourself with the artists, works and styles that move you.
  • Keep your eye open while on vacation or browsing a local street festival for pieces of art that call out to you.
  • Take a camera with you on a nature hike.  Snap some pictures.  Collect “specimens.”  Create a collage of your adventure, or frame the photos that really jump out at you.
  • Buy a canvas and some acrylic paints (craft paints come in all sorts of shades and can be quite inexpensive).  Collect some random household items and trace them–overlapping and repeating the shapes until the array becomes interesting to you.  Then paint them. (Example)
  • Buy some watercolor paper and paint.  Drip the paint onto the paper, until the abstract play of shapes and colors pleases your eye.  (Example)
  • Buy some glue (ModPodge works great) and decoupage an old piece of furniture, or a picture frame–with images and text cut out from old children’s books, postcards, birthday cards, or ticket stubs.  The more sentimental the collage items are to you, the more meaningful the piece will be.

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