Why is Art So Important?

Last evening around 9:30 the sounds of Yorkville on a Friday night – date night – lured us out of our cocoon and into the party throng on the street. There’s a vibe down here in the middle of downtown Toronto. Everyone comes to these few blocks to have fun. The restaurants have lineups and the patios are overspilling onto the street. Young and old have a Yorkville memory of some kind and are drawn back to find that ephemeral joie. Mine go back to the early 70s – The Unicorn, gone, The Coffee Mill, still here and thriving.

We detoured toward Yorkville Avenue first before switching back to the Gelateria on Cumberland. Earlier in the afternoon we’d put a new display in our Nano Gallery – there in the lane way – a painting by artist, Linda Kemp and wanted to make sure the drapery was behaving. It wasn’t. (Note to self…)

Anyway, we decided to have the first gelato of the season. The evening was cool and breezy, but we still had to wait in line for that cup of cold sensory delight. We sauntered along, exchanging tastes and arrived in our little park where we perched on the huge square stones stacked up to create a raised garden. It’s still early for planting, but we are sitting right at the edge of the allee of gorgeous cherry trees in full blossom. Even in the night they shimmer. Looking up through the overhanging branches the rising full moon casts an opal light through the pink canopy.

Just steps away from the street we are quiet in the hush of the trees and are happy observers of life in Yorkville on Friday night. And then all at once I get it! I get why art is so very important to so many of us. I mean, I am sitting on this stone, really in reverie; musing on the past, enjoying the gelato and the company of my love in the present while we chat about our future. I am in the midst of experience – my own, in the midst of hundreds who surround me.

I vaguely thought as I let in the night colour of the cherry blossoms that they would soon be gone if this breeze kept up. I was delighted as one petal blew down, did a spin in the air and topped my gelato like a flag. I no sooner had the thought but dismissed it that we must come back and get a picture in the morning. There was no camera that could capture this experience.

Like the eye, the camera records everything within the frame. Our perceptual filters dismiss this and that until we have an edited experience in real time. Photographers similarly must edit to make their point of reference clear and then sometimes impose technical manipulation to further the clarity of message. Painting, on the other hand, begins with a blank canvas – no information. The artist draws from within his or her inner being, the colours and shapes that depict what they have ‘seen’ in their mind’s eye.

The mind’s eye – unlike our physical recording or photographic eye – sees with all the senses. The developed artist is an observer of life on all planes. An artist, as acute observer, absorbs the totality of experience, wind, light, warmth, colour, hue, tone, texture, pattern, line, mood, memory and context of the moment. And then the monumental task is to draw on that reservoir and interpret that onto a tabula rasa. In a distillation the artist must bring forward the essence so that like drops of rain onto a cactus, the viewer engages in the artist’s suggestions and his or her very being is charged with opening to the communication.

A successful painting is a skilled and inspired communication. It can be abstract – now called non-representational – or realistic or surreal. Our literal and rational mind – so popular these days – is only part of our interpretive sensory experience. Our brain has a trillion hits of information a day that we filter and file in our vast sensory library. A painting by an intuitive and experienced artist will drift like smoke under the doorway of our rational barriers and inform us of a deeper experience of life.

We will be moved. Each of us will resonate to different artists, just as we feel our way into personal relationships. The experience of a work of art is entirely voluntary and subjective. It is an invitation that you will wish to accept or pass on for something more meaningful to you. All art regardless of quality or excellence is communication. As therapy, art is superlative in releasing the demons within so that they can be encountered on a constructive basis. Child’s art is absolutely dear in its innocence and integrity. A talent in his or her first days, can produce attractive works. But art as a language that will continue to speak to us of inspiration or resolution, happiness or consolation, must meet our own complexity of being to truly be an enduring gift to us personally.

A work of art needn’t be large to have a big voice. Nor must it be by a ‘recognized’ artist to be excellent. It can be inexpensive or dear. It’s intrinsic value is in what it gives to us when we see it; how its presence in our room changes the feeling of the space. How we feel familiar with the artist – even if we never meet – because at some level he or she captured something personal within you and you have been understood.

"South Field - Pink Light" Linda Kemp 7.5" x 7.5" Watercolour

“South Field – Pink Light” Linda Kemp 7.5″ x 7.5″ Watercolour

This last thought is very powerful for me. The more we evolve into our technology the greater our isolation. We may be connected and living seemingly interactive lives – pictures of every nuance on Facebook across nations. Our bon mots may be retweeted to thousands, but the great divide is the screen before us where we play out our lives. Clustering with laptops in cyber cafes, I believe, has more to do with loneliness than a cheap wifi connection. Thronging to Yorkville on a weekend has more to do with being shoulder to shoulder than walking with an orange Hermes shopping bag.

We don’t just want to belong to a person or a place – we want to belong to a shared experience. One that, like the cherry blossoms won’t have blown away by morning. Our art is our way of being human together and knowing each other in ways our words could never be adequate to – even if we allowed ourself the vulnerability to speak them to another. Art opens us to ourselves and in that frees us to be more present in the moment.

I probably will take the camera when we go for our Saturday morning coffee on the patio overlooking the park. Along with the picture I will pick up a handful of petals now on the ground. They will be silky and I will let my eyes drink in their pinkness. The moon – in perigee tonight will return in supermoon splendour. All the elements of last night will be there; the lineup at the gelateria, the super cars, the glamourous ones, the laughter, the clinking of glasses, the smokey voice of the songstress – but my moment has blown away on the wisp of memory.

It’s not the memory of the moment I want to keep – I could do that digitally. It is the feeling of the experience – the hardness of the rock where we sat, the softness of the falling petals. How the wind became chill and we joined the moving crowds and took the long way home in the light of the moon – heads close, soft words, arms around each other.

One day I will see a painting that will, like ink in water, drop into my subconscious and suffuse it with this sweet remembered experience.  Until then, I’ll wait.