What is Art?
The answer in the broadest brushstroke is this: It’s all art.
The art I am talking about is art from the soul. Once the soul is found, the form follows—painting, music, dance, literature, and so on. Isn’t all art from the soul? No. Muzak is not Mozart.
Let me tell you about the piano man.
I was living in San Francisco at the time. It was in the early afternoon when a superb artist, several of his patrons, and I, were gathered in a large three-story stone mansion in the Cow Hollow district that overlooked the Marina. I looked around. The entire first floor that once supported many walls and rooms had been gutted to make space for an imposing ballroom. In the dimly lit inner sanctum there were some thirty pianos, each covered with a soft white sheet. Our host, a wealthy piano collector, told us various virtuosi and composers had owned these pianos. He asked us if we would like to hear a piece. Yeses and nods. After carefully removing the cover draped over a grand piano, he ran several fingers along the mirror-like luster of the wood. As he sat down, our host mentioned that this fine instrument had belonged to Arthur Rubenstein and that Vladimir Horowitz and Igor Stravinsky had once owned the pianos to his right.
The piano man began playing from memory.
Suddenly, Debussys Clair de Lune swept up all around the piano mausoleum. After about five minutes, the piece was finished and the air stopped vibrating. We applauded. There was no doubt our host had classical concert ability. Yet there was something missing from the performance of the otherwise haunting melody. While the piano man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency, the music had been strangely sterile. Our pianist had played the work as the notes ticked off unerringly by rote inside his head. It was accuracy without passion, like hearing a detailed description of two people making love in clinical terms.
To know and appreciate the difference between technique and spirit makes for elevated consciousness. Otherwise you are stuck in that eternal vanilla waiting room with Muzak for company. Each original artwork contains the soul of its creator; that is why the connoisseur wants to own original art; the life force that resides within the work is undeniable. From this understanding, you can enrich your ability to discern art from advertising, soulful from commercial, good from bad, and reality from pretension. Discern not in rhetoric as in proclaiming this is better than that, but in awareness that this is this and this is that. Each true artwork enters the world alone and alive.
Remember, comparisons in art are traps.
From the dim twilight of human evolution, there was art before there was the spoken word of language. Human culture is some 50,000 years old; our ancestor not only survived, they made art—necklaces and carvings that transcended the utilitarian. Remember, cave painters during Paleolithic times of 30,000 years ago did not go to art school to produce their masterpieces. Using words to describe art is conceptual and antithetical to feeling, its nature. Writing about art has its place as historical interest. How would you describe awe? No matter how beautifully or poignantly expressed, can words truly describe the feeling of love? It can only be described metaphorically via simile. No matter how well I express the deepening orange hues and modulations of a setting sun to a blind man, he still can’t see it.
Writing about art isn’t it. Viewing a piece of art hanging on a wall tells little about the art itself—oblivious to the process that created it, the viewer sees a finished work and not the force behind the art. How did the art come into existence is the quintessential question that completes the picture.
You cannot know what art is by reading art history books or critiques; and you can’t know what love is by reading the most heartfelt of poems or romance novels; while the words might bring tears to your eyes, the emotion is still secondhand.
Don’t confuse sincerity or sentimentality with sentient consciousness.
What is art?
As I’ve said elsewhere, including my artist’s statement, there are two fundamental questions to consider about a piece of art: What is the quality of the art and how did it come into the world? If the art came into being through an inexplicable power that reveals a view of the realm called reality, then the art is magic as it is born of creation. And by reality, I don’t imply copying nature, which is creative, but adding to nature, which is creation. Everyone has imagination and creativity is the rearrangement of existential things. Neither imagination or creativity reside in the domain of creation.
How is the spectator, the art patron to know if the work is magic? How is the artist to know if her art is magic? For the artist, it is a matter of lucid introspection without self-deception. The art patron has no less a challenge, as she must educate herself to become a connoisseur. You cannot know what the magic is until you see it forming in front of your eyes and in the presence of your soul. You cannot know what art is until you taste its dewy essence on your own cultured palette. For this, you have to find an artist who creates from the soul and spend much time in his studio where you can become a reliable witness to creation, to the spirit made materially manifest. To find and know such an artist is the beginning of a great adventure. The reward of discerning what is what is in direct proportion to the energy invested in finding out what one is looking at. This each person must do for himself through direct experience. Secondhand information will not do.
It has been my experience that we learn what a thing is by first finding out all the things that it is not. Can you know who God is because someone else told you to believe? If you have found God, you have found art; if you have found art, you have found God.
Although finding such an artist at this moment may not be possible, you can be present during the creation with a master at work. Pablo Picasso did not like to get into heady discussions about art or speak much of the soul or God. Watching him paint nevertheless opens doors. You can rent or buy The Mystery of Picasso, a film made in 1956 by director Henri-Georges Clouzot. The director filmed Picasso (then 74 years old) as he magically created some 20 works, which were allegedly destroyed after the film was completed. Here, in this brilliant documentary about the process of painting, Picasso draws himself and us into the inside of the Unconscious from the outside. While Picasso doesn’t need any more publicity, remember that he wasn’t born famous.
From where is art?
The art I am talking about is art that comes into being for no other reason than to be—art from the soul, art from the inside out, which must be felt to be created and to be seen. Art from the soul comes into being from intuition; such art by definition is transcendental to thought and does not come from thinking or conceptualizing, which are cerebral pursuits. Art from the soul is art without motive. This is what is meant by that familiar exclamation: “Art for arts sake.”
Remember, you cannot think how you feel or feel how you think. While you can appreciate the mastery of technique, as seen with the piano player, such skill is sharpening the pencil for effect and, like drawing, is based on measurement, which is ultimately precise and finite. To see and harness the force behind the power of art, look beyond the veneer of technique and taste and you will discover the uncrowded window that opens up into timeless eternity.
At its essential nature, the answer to what is art is this: If the artist is certain he can do it again, then the edge of creation has been dulled by routine into a thing reproducible, refined again and again—and to what purpose? It is the artist copying himself. Reproduction in this sense should not be confused with the artisan—a master of a specific craft who represents and understands his work for what it is. For the artist, it is better to copy someone else.
If the artist is unsure of the outcome as if going out on that first date and is fully aware that the next improvisation, should it transmute into harmony, is a gift, then it is art—the art I am talking about, a unique product of creation that spirals ever upward toward evolution where the quality of life is engaging and desperation is but an archaic term. And who better to model yourself after than the Great Creator, the artist of all existence?
Art is a vision of God created in the material world.»