Monday, April 27, 2009

Why Art?

It has been several weeks since I have posted a new blog entry, a very busy, full few weeks. My head is spinning with ideas and images, and one reason for my delay has been out of indecision as to topic. Do I write about the art in Italy (having spent a week in design-centric Milano and a week in Tuscany visiting Florence, Siena, Pienza, San Gimignano, Montalcino...) or do I wrestle with the burning question: 

 “Why is art important enough to spend resources on 
when everything else needs those resources too?”

Pondering the two possible stories, it became clear to me that they are related. Surprised? Me, too. But here it is:

About a week before leaving for Italy, I was showing my friend Jacqui a few of the images that I have been creating using photography and Photoshop. As you well know, my work is focused on compositions of organic materials with my stated goal of “helping people to see nature anew.” So, when she spontaneously exclaimed, “This is so uplifting!” I was surprised – and delighted that my art could inspire someone’s heart in that way. (Especially someone as lovely and as discerning as she is.)

Soon afterward, I posed the question to some of my fellow Commissioners on the Palo Alto Public Art Commission – Why art? How do we justify spending public money on art, when so many other things in the city need attention?  We all agreed that art is important positive factor to the human condition – by providing those uplifting moments that are as critical to the soul as bread is to the body, by being a means of expression and communication, and the oldest way for humans to connect.

In Milan and Tuscany, most of my time was spent engrossed in art and architecture, visiting museums (Palazzo Reale, Ambrosiana, Triennale, Pinacoteca di Brera and La Scala Museums in Milan, plus the Uffizi and the Academia di Bella Arti Firenza), not to mention the countless buildings, duomos and cathedrals in every city and town we visited in Tuscany.

Fortunately, in our travel party was a friend who speaks fluent Italian, spends quite a bit of time there, and has made an admirable study of the history and culture of much of the area. Her running commentary – for she loves this stuff and loves sharing it – made our wanderings more like taking a daily instructional class field trip punctuated only by the occasional restorative cappuccinos and the much-needed re-fueling of long delicious lunches. (Art History Class should have only been so good. Thanks, Annie!)

The last evening of our trip, someone posed the question “What is your most lasting impression of being in Italy?” and after just brief consideration, my answer was that seeing so many decades of art made me feel more connected with a longer lineage of mankind, than I feel at home. Seeing more than two thousands years’ of human visual expression that I can understand and relate to gives me the sense that not only am I connected, but it is my duty to honor the long connection and to carry on by contributing positively to those who will come after.

That is why art is important.  Art, in all of its forms and styles and sizes, connects us from one human to another, from one group to another, country to country and culture to culture, Age to Age, heart to heart. And who are we, measly mortals that we are, to still the forge that creates those links?


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