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What is Art for?

April 1, 2018
By: Gerald Lopez

Today is Easter Sunday. For me, it is more than about the death of someone famous. The more important message is about Resurrection, that is rebirth, renewal and liberation. As I walked in my neighbourhood in the silence of the early morning and the rising sun, I thought of art. What is art? What is it’s purpose?

As I mused, I thought of what art does to me. When art speaks to me, it “stops my world.” It jolts me, subtly or strongly, and triggers a change in myself.
It triggers surprise, delight, or awe, a sense of something beyond the ordinary. It could be a human form, a landscape, a juxtaposition of objects, or a deity.

I think art causes a shift of consciousness. What do I mean? I am reminded of a walk I took down a street in Earl’s Court, London in the Spring of 1984. I had walked down that same street for the last three years, but for the first time, I noticed the Spring flowers on the trees. I stopped, in awe. By seeing the flowers that I had not seen before, I had a shift in consciousness, an expansion of awareness. I believe art works in the same way.

When art speaks to me, it “stops my world.”

Looking at the western Romantic periods, one can see that art did its work through the pursuit of beauty – beautiful people, landscapes, lines and shapes. Even early photography tried to copy the “pictorial” style of painted art.

Then in the early-to-mid 20th century, social and political comment became dominant purposes. Later in the 20th century postmodern art became “anti-art” and tried to shock, alarm, and disturb our comfort zones. I found this pessimistic and counterproductive.

I believe the true purpose of art is an optimistic one, and I will explain further shortly. Post-postmodern art (I don’t know its official name as I am not an art critic) is more optimistic, yet has some of the postmodern elements such as surprise (a gentler form of shock). It seems to me that good art is multi-layered, like a complex wine; it surprises and delights; and it leaves one feeling uplifted. That is how I want my photography to be.

I believe the true purpose of art is an optimistic one

Art has substantially moved away from being literal and become more participatory for the viewer; it seems that abstraction and ambiguity allows the viewer to fill in the blanks, to interpret in their unique way. This makes for a more meaningful and satisfying experience.

I used to be a natural health practitioner, and for me, art is a healing modality. Healing means making whole. In the world we have made, we are disconnected from our body that we despise, from our sexual energy that we are ashamed of, from our society, from our natural environment.

Art heals. How? It reminds us of connection, say, to the astounding beauty of the female body, or of a flower or a mountain, or the awesomeness of the ordinary things in life.

For the artist, it is an expression of meaning, that is healing in being shared.

Art, for the artist and the viewer, reconnects us with the divine order of the world. As we struggle to make sense of the chaotic events of our life, of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, art can remind us that, in the apparent chaos is an amazing order, an order that underlies all of life and existence. This order has been called God, and many other names, throughout human history.

Art heals. How? It reminds us of connection, say, to the astounding beauty of the female body, or of a flower or a mountain, or the awesomeness of the ordinary things in life.

Therefore, art heals by reminding us, and giving us the experience, of the wholeness that we share, the wholeness that is always inherent in the divine order. In encourages us to feel again the divine wholeness of ourselves.

In many traditions, including the ancient western one, art was sacred. It was created as a reminder of our connection to God. It was created to hold society together—to heal it.

We have gone through hundreds of years of secular art, which, free from the rules of ritual and dogma, has explored itself, just as a modern teenager explores life; exhilarated and emboldened by its independence from organised religion.

Yet, in my personal experience, art has come full circle, and has become sacred again. People have discovered spirituality outside the bounds of organised religion. Art, too, has become a spiritual healer through its explorations and metamorphoses. It has become more simple, refined and direct, and thus more powerful in its effect.

As I came to the end of my walk, thinking these thoughts, I saw a Chinese man walking in the park, talking gently to his little son. What I saw next brought tears to my eyes. I saw two chickens pecking at the grass near them, and realised they lived next door to the park, and had taken their chickens for a walk. This act of kindness, like great art, moved me and changed my life another little bit.

I dedicate this post to a dear friend who is studying art therapy, as part of her own healing journey.

All photos Copyright Gerald Lopez (unless otherwise stated).

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