Art is a Stuff of Life

What’s art? There are many views of what art means and the role it plays in people's lives. For some it’s a commodity or even an investment opportunity. Others see it as a luxurious pastime for so-called elites that ordinary people can well do without. And then there are those who believe that art is an absolutely essential part of people’s lives.

In my view the real meaning of art is not that it’s a luxury item for elites or an object of speculation for investors. Nor should it serve as a preserve for expert analysis. On the contrary, I believe that art is an essential part of life and that it’s open and accessible to everybody – whether for pleasure or for understanding yourself and the world around you.

Art comes from life

Where does art originate? It originates in the questions that the human spirit asks of life and in the experiences that the spirit gains from living. Art comes from life and belongs to life. These are the original impulses of art.

If we now look at the cave paintings that our early ancestors made over 30,000 years ago we can get a feeling for what art meant for them. And we recognise that they were endowed with astonishing artistic ability. With only the simplest means at their disposal they painted spiritual pictures of their lives on the walls of the caves where they sought shelter from wind, weather and wild animals that can still amaze us and move us and which even today we immediately and intuitively understand when we see them without any need for grand explanations. Their wall drawings captured scenes from their lives which they held to be important and that were imbued with strong feelings. Through art they expressed what they had lived through and what moved them deeply, and shared it in a lasting way with other members of their tribe and other people across the ages down to us today. Art conferred a different and new quality on the lives of our ancestors. And the same still holds true today – art gives our present lives a special quality.

Art is good for the soul

Even if the world we now live in is totally different from that of our Stone Age ancestors, the basic questions confronting us still remain the same. Never before has humankind disposed of such a huge body of scientific findings on life on planet Earth and the universe that surrounds us. Yet science can give no answers to the age-old fundamental questions of where we come from, why we are here and where we are going to. The religions of this world believe that they can. But art gives no answers. It asks the questions and encourages us to think about them yet leaves the answers to the viewer, listener or reader – the independent thinking and inquiring individual. Art creates a free space for the spirit and is good for the soul. This is why it’s valuable and important – and not because it brings in money.

Let’s take music as another example. When I listen to Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, Debussy´s Claire de Lune or Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, there are instants when I feel as though I were at one with the universe.  I don’t find any scientific explanation in these sounds and harmonies nor any definite answers to the deep and fundamental questions of existence and life. What I do find is a kind of inexplicable presentiment or inkling. Art satisfies the hunger of the spirit and the thirst of the soul seeking to understand the nature of its own being. This is why art is also called balm that soothes and heals the soul – in viewing and listening just as in the act of creation, in making music, singing or painting.

Art is a stuff of life

In this sense art is basically a stuff of life. What would life be without art? When it’s a question of physical survival, obviously factors other than art take precedence. We need water, food, protection from heat and cold, and we need medical care. But even so, it was in the time of the hard lockdown due to the corona virus that the evening concerts from people’s balconies radiated an energy and vitality whose effects couldn’t be measured on the thermometer but which certainly had a tremendously uplifting impact on people’s spirits – particularly in Italy but also in Germany and other countries too.

When the Titanic sank, it went down to the sound of violins being played by the musicians engaged to play in the liner’s pompous ballroom. And even if their music didn’t rescue a single passenger from drowning on that fateful night, at least it saved those desperately seeking to save themselves from the icy bleak silence in which that dramatic event must have unfolded. These are pretty grim cases you might be thinking. And they may well be – but they do tell us an awful lot about the meaning of art in the lives of people – right up to their point of death.

Fortunately, even during the lockdown there was no complete dearth of artistic and cultural events for months on end. Alongside the official cultural media programme on TV and the internet, solo artists and theatre communities began – and will continue – to use digital opportunities to maintain or re-establish the connection with their audiences and so with life itself. Now this is no substitute for a genuine concert experience, a real exhibition or a film on the big screen of a movie theatre. It’s more liked tinned food in contrast to a freshly prepared meal but at the very least it does cover a basic need.

And finally there’s the question of how and from what all these freelance artists are going to live when they’re not allowed to appear or exhibit. If art is a stuff of life then artists are the very ones who provide us with such nutrition. Especially in such troubled times as ours we should take care not to forget them but treat them well and value them like a glass of water in the desert.


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