Why Art?

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Dusasa II by an artist from Ghana--El Anatsui--on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

This is a work of art made from copper wire, scrap metal, bottle caps that the artist who saw these things and could see that they could be combined in new ways to produce something special.  This man learned how to see.  This is the greatest piece of art I’ve ever seen.

Art helps us to see.  If a person just takes one class in drawing they will learn how to see better, because that is how one learns to draw by looking at details.   When someone is drawing a tree from nature, they have to stare at that tree for at least ten minutes so that they can reproduce it in detail.  That kind of exercise helps people to notice the details even when they are not drawing.

When a person becomes interested in photography beyond the point of just taking family snapshots, then the photographer begins to look carefully at all that is around him, so that he can see something that is interesting and would make a good picture.  The next step is when one finds something interesting that they would like to photograph, they begin to think of things like composition, lighting and interesting angles.  This is learning how to see.  Learning to notice the world around us, enriches our lives and helps so to grow as human beings.

Different View--Dusasa II by El Anatsui

We’ve all known people who just walk around without ever seeing anything.  They are just engulfed in their own thoughts, and nothing going on outside of themselves is of any interest to them.  They might as well be blind.  Those people could have much richer lives if they could only see the world around them and how glorious it is.   Art enriches our lives by making us more aware of life and the world we live in for the short time we are here.  If a piece of art does not do that, then perhaps it really can’t be called art.

In some people’s view, i.e. Ruskin, photography keeps people from really seeing, because the person is so involved in taking pictures that they miss what’s going on around them.  I don’t hold that view.  I subscribe more to this view:

In my view, you cannot claim to have seen something until you have photographed it …Emile Zola

Alone, with only my camera and a tripod, I spent a week wandering around Paris photographing everything I could find.  I believe that helped me to become far better acquainted with Paris in that short of time than I could have otherwise.  If I were drawing or painting, I couldn’t have seen nearly as much in a week, but perhaps what I saw would be deeper.  But, I have to do what I’m best at, and I stink at drawing and painting.  I think Emile Zola and I were on the same page.

Between Heaven and Earth by El Anatsui on Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC
Photo of El-Anatsui taken from the Internet

The following quote is from Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, which I’ve been reading:

–…To speak of these things and to try to understand their nature and, having understood it, to try slowly and humbly and constantly to express, to press out again, from the gross earth or what it brings forth, from sound and shape and colour which are the prison gates of our soul, an image of the beauty we have come to understand–that is art.


I have another post on the work of El Anatsui called El Anatsui’s Masterpiece at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that you might like to see.

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