by Sharon Griffes Tarr                                                                                             

A few days ago, I had a conversation with a young college graduate who is a married woman. She asked me what I do for a living. When I told her that I am a painter, she said, “I don’t know anything about art.”  When queried further her “art” world consisted of wedding pictures and inexpensive “design” art from Target.  When I explained to her art can be a conversation between the artist and herself, the same as music, she responded she had never thought of it like that. Sadly, her response is not unusual.

Every day folks from around the world and of all ages respond to music. We hear it on the radio and TV, play it in our homes or hum it when we’re happy.  We experience it when alone or in groups. It’s a universal language that is readily shared and felt by everyone. We respond for many reasons including our enjoyment of a rhythm or lyrics, or even the type of instruments used or the voice that delivers it. One way or another, there are few people who are not moved by music.  

But when we think about it, the very same is true of art. Why then do we not consider the visual world our universal language?

I lack a formal education in music but, never-the-less, I enjoy and love to listen to a variety of styles, composers and instruments. There is nothing intellectual about it, it simply “is” for me. I do not feel that I have to “understand” music.   For far too long, there has been a stigma created by elitism in the art world that implies art is high-minded and one must have knowledge to appreciate art.  That art is not for everyone…only the elite. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Art certainly brings out the finer feelings in the human psyche and, perhaps it is this, combined with the fact that for centuries the only people that could afford art were the very rich. The general public had no access to original art works unless they were found in local churches or public buildings. Art simply wasn’t a part of everyday life for the average person. Music, on the other hand, was and continues to be available to everyone no matter one’s station in life.  Hence there is a natural familiarity with music that is not generally shared with works of art.

Life is far different today in many countries around the world than in previous centuries. For instance, here in the United States, almost everyone has access to a formal education, to transportation, to mass media, etc.  Our people as a whole enjoy an intellectual status that has not been known since the beginning of time.  And yet, many people such as the young married woman I mentioned earlier, still say, “I know nothing about art”. Isn’t it time we change that?

Perhaps making a change has to come first from artists. If we who make art were to talk more to folks about the fact that our art is a visual conversation with them, that it expresses our love, emotion, feelings, ideas and concepts about the world we live in than folks might be able to connect. If they understood that art does for the eyes and soul the same thing that music does for the ears and soul, they might understand it is for everyone, not just the rich. In reality, art is very much a part of our everyday world far more often than is music. It is all around us in everything we touch and see. Our clothing, home décor, the design of our cars, and the construction of every scene in a movie are just a minute fraction of what we experience in a single day. Each of these things require variations of artistic thought and design to produce. Perhaps, as a beginning, folks don’t need so much knowledge about art as to first learn an appreciation for the art that is all around them.  

Imagine if you will, that in 2015, we artists were to make a collective effort to help teach the children in our communities the concept of art being a visual conversation. If we were to discuss this idea with the adults we come in contact with perhaps we could begin to make a difference. Just think, if every person understood that representational art expresses the artists feelings and/or ideas about his or her subject and that non-representational art visually describes those non-subjective emotions, or ideas; a defined difference between the two genres. With just this small chip of art knowledge, folks might begin to understand what art is and find in it a new appreciation.  Perhaps we could even have an impact on school administrators who are so quick to cut fine art budgets if they were to understand that everything made by humankind is involved with design and concept, the foundations of visual art and all creative thinking.  We have to start somewhere and I believe this simple collective effort  of artists, verbally describing  our creative intent in what we do, might just be the first step towards making the visual arts an everyday appreciated part of human culture.  I think Monet said it very well…

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.” 

Let’s give it a try!

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