Life is Art?
So Life is Art, huh? You've probably heard it said before. Maybe it means something to you, or maybe it seems an outlandish claim that leaves you scratching your head. Well let me explain why it has become something of a mantra to me.
I understand the usefulness of specificity in communication, yet have often felt that there are many areas in which we have much more to gain by expanding our definitions than by narrowing them. As a peaceful, conflict-avoiding person, I notice the disagreements that arise when people use all too narrow parameters on terms when dealing with various issues. Art is no exception. I find that very often certain people want to define "Art" as only what they consider to be "good" art. When it's not good enough, it somehow ceases to be art. I've heard some people say that certain music that they don't like "isn't really music". I understand that "good" and "bad" are objective terms that many of us are understandably hesitant to use, and I only intend to use these terms here in the sense of personal taste, but we need to allow for the possibility that there is a spectrum of art, any genre or medium of art, from good to bad. There is such a thing as bad art, even though that may mean very different things to different people. As people often debate "What is art?" I have realized that there is more benefit to broadening our definition.
This idea of art broadly defined compelled me to consider what that definition might look like, and it's something that I still wrestle with. I know that when I talk about art, there are two different meanings: Firstly formal, traditional Art- what we mean when we say "Art class" or "Art museum"- something put into public view with that label to be considered, contemplated, critiqued and consumed as Art. This part is actually not that hard to define, even though it can come down to something as absurdly simple as anyone publicly claiming that something is indeed art. Put a frame on it, literally or otherwise, and it's your art. Remember- it doesn't have to be good! (Although if you set out to make bad art on purpose, and you succeed, is it then good? Oh my.) But then there's another level to what is art. What happens when the viewing of art is not public but very personal? Art is a way of communicating something to an audience- but what if you can be your own audience? What if something unintended as art speaks to you as if it was? Can you claim something as art in your own mind? What if you see beauty or something profound being created inadvertently in life, not being claimed by any one artist?
A friend's true life story can speak to you as profoundly as any Shakespearean play, a majestic view from an unfrequented summit can be richer than any Van Gogh, the mellifluous overheard conversation of a beautiful foreign language can be like a song to our ears, a social performance at that office party that you dreaded going to can be Oscar-worthy if only anyone knew how you really felt. Again, It doesn't have to be good from everyone's perspective! Maybe this viewpoint is a way to give all of life a more redemptive quality, a way to qualify all that is difficult to appreciate or understand. But I see so much artistry in the nature, life and stories that are all around me. When I am taking a photo, am I creating a traditional work of art, or am I just working to capture the already existing light and matter that have artistically arranged themselves? Maybe both. When I am painting a canvas, am I creating a traditional work of art, or just engaging in an activity that my life has compelled me to do in that moment, regardless if anyone else ever sees the painting, and therein lies the art? Maybe both. Sometimes it's beautiful, sometimes tragic, sometimes frustrating, and sometimes just plain bad, sometimes nobody made it, sometimes one or many people are responsible, sometimes you are your own audience, and sometimes your audience is someone you will never realize, but to me, life itself is art.
I am just grateful to be a participant.