Tuesday 27 May 2014

The meaning of art

It sounds like the name of a Monty Python movie. It's a big topic. So big, in fact, that I'd be deluding myself to think I could even begin to do it justice. While the title of this post could be perceived as either very lofty or very silly, my intention is to express my thoughts on what art means from a personal perspective as a working artist and a life-long appreciator of art. 

I have often thought of artists as proverbial canaries in the coal mine when it comes to economics, at least when it comes to average working artists who make and sell art for a living (I'm not referring to those who get by on grants or who are at a career point where their work is in the ethereal realm of serious collectors). As a rule of thumb, when people tighten their belts, artists are the first to feel it because what we produce is, in truth, something people can do without when there's a choice between buying art or buying groceries. That's not at all surprising, although it can be disconcerting to those who make and sell art to buy their own groceries. However, even when times are not tough, many people choose to buy things other than art and are content with covering their walls with department store prints that match their décor. I'm not judgemental - anything on the walls is so much better than nothing, and during my life I have had my share of space-filling pictures on my walls. But as both an artist and someone who appreciates art made by others, I can't imagine my home without art that is meaningful to me and, if at all possible (i.e. within my limited budget), created by hand by the artist. 

As you might expect, my house is full of art. Both inside and outside my studio hang portraits of my own animals, some still living and others not. For an animal-loving artist like me, there isn't much that's more meaningful that a portrait of one of my four-legged friends. Of course not everyone could or would want to have as many portraits as I do, but given the business I'm in, not only do these images keep me connected to my animal buddies, they provide useful samples of my artistic skills.

My portrait of my horse Duke (now long deceased).
It keeps me company in my studio.
My portrait of one of my current cats, Archie.
It hangs outside my studio door. The real Archie
enjoys hanging out with me in the studio.

Throughout the rest of my house there are batiks and paintings and serigraphs and other art pieces that have special connections - and no, not all of them depict animals, and no, not all of them are originals. None of them were very expensive. However, they're all meaningful to me. They can take me back to the place where I bought them, or make me feel a wash of emotion through the interplay of their colours, or they connect me with a time, or a person, or a thing that holds significance. I get deep enjoyment from them. There are prints and posters on my walls too, and while each of them means something to me, it's the originals that mean the most.

A Haitian style painting that I purchased in a harbour-front market
in St. Lucia. I can feel the bustle of the market when I view it.

A paper batik in a style not dis-similar to my own.
It has adorned my walls for many years and I never tire of it.

Some west coast art - raku starfish and a First Nations serigraph -
each of which I acquired while vacationing on Vancouver Island.

Owning a piece of original art means having something completely unique and special. It gives us pleasure and is something that we, our families, and our friends will admire, enjoy and discuss for years to come. Thankfully, original art doesn't have to be expensive although it certainly can beFor the price of a pair of shoes or a weekend away we can have something on our walls that has lasting value both on a personal level and quite possibly as an investment in the future. After all, history demonstrates that art is a legacy that is passed down through generations.

The direction this is taking might sound like a bit of ruthless self promotion - and perhaps in a way it is - but it's also a plug for supporting whichever local artist strikes your fancy. When you purchase a piece of art you also support the artists who enrich our communities. Their efforts enhance our quality of life in ways that often are not recognized or appreciated, but that's a topic for another day. True artists are compelled to make art, whether they sell it or not. However, selling a piece is validation; each sale is a meaningful moment for the art maker.

I think it's safe to say that without art our lives would indeed be the poorer for it. The art in my house is a large part of what makes it my home. I've spoken before in other posts about clients who are moved to tears when they first see the portrait I have made of their beloved pet. Interestingly, I've also seen tears in the eyes of people purchasing a piece of art that they saw and simply fell in love with. And I always feel a little pang when a piece of art I have created leave me for its new home. It's an emotional business!

Over the coming months there will be art fairs, and arts festivals, open studio events, paint-athons in parks, and all kinds of spaces and places where artists will show their work to the public. I encourage you to stop and have a look. Maybe you'll see something that strikes a chord within you, that will look perfect in your home, that will give you years of enjoyment, that will have personal meaning. Take it home, hang it up and enjoy! And take pleasure in the knowledge that your purchase also meant a lot to the maker of that piece of art.

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