Is Art, Art?

Today I’m going to write about art, and my newfound appreciation for it. I should clarify that I am referring to static visual arts – paintings, sculpture, photography, etc. And I have been consuming it recently in the form of coffee table books. Fairly recently I started to dedicate a slot in my calendar towards paging through a coffee table book each day. For no real reason other than to expose myself to new and different things, to see if anything triggered any inspiration. And it kind of worked! I inevitably learned about the specific artists I was viewing, different regions of the world, historical events, technological advancements, and that type of stuff. But it also shifted my perspective slightly, or maybe to put it another way it gave me a new filter through which I could look at everything else. And that was really the key. I don’t want to say I have the perspective of an artist. I am staunchly in the left brain camp for better or worse. But when I see the world around it’s much easier for me to take inspiration, and think about creative possibilities. I would classify that last sentence as dribble. Just throwing some words together and hoping that no one thinks too much about what they mean. Sorry.

One interesting distinction I want to cover off is the distinction between art and entertainment. I read about this a while ago, and it stuck with me, but I want to give proper attribution and would like to avoid paraphrasing so let me do a little bit of google research real quick. Ok, I see that this is a topic with a lot of essays and debate, so I won’t rehash all of that. But entertainment is certainly viewed as a formulaic, marketing and sales driven creation to give people a short-term escape from whatever else they have going on in their life. Will they remember it or go back to it? Will it change the way they look at things? The answer to all of those questions is probably no. But that’s not to say it has no value. Sometimes you don’t want to, or simply aren’t able to invest the mental energy required to consume the more demanding alternative, art. Art on the other hand is something more like an expression from one person to another or group. Original art would not be created using the framework of an established template. And as such, the originally can have a striking effect on the viewer. It can stay with them and change their perspective – this is what happened to me, and I swear I wrote the intro to this essay before doing my five minutes of googling! Entertainment and art can both exist on the same mediums – film, tv, writing, music. And they can also both exist on the same quality spectrum, although maybe with different criteria.

The distinction stuck with me maybe because I worked for a company with Arts in his name for over ten years. But I would have to say that most of what it produced was entertainment. There were flashes of true artistic expression, but it absolutely would not be easy to get those types of initiatives through the gauntlet of approvals necessary to get a project off the ground. It’s not surprising, and I was 100% complicit in certain cases to be clear. To invest the money and internal resources required to do anything, and put the name of the company at risk to boot, you want as many assurances as possible. And how to you create assurances in the minds of capital and resource allocators? You make a comparison to a successful product in the market. And there’s your template. You’re making entertainment! If you propose something completely off the wall that has no true comparison, how can anyone be sure that it will provide returns? You can’t be, so then you’re really reliant on the track record of the artist to deliver. And that does happen, but not many have the clout required to do this, and one too many missteps and you’re back to zero or worse. So that’s how media companies can accidentally shift too far towards entertainment and away from artistic endeavors. Luckily they are aware of this, and would generally set an allocation target against their total resources to ensure they are not completely ignoring new and unproven ideas. To do so would absolutely be at their detriment, since that would leave an opening for a competitor more willing to push the creative envelope. So there’s your quick media aside!

Back to my recent experience, even before I started looking at coffee table books, I read the biography of Leonardo Di Vinci (Isaacson), which also shaped my view of art. I was only vaguely familiar with Leonardo’s greatest hits – Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, Virtuvian Man, etc. But I knew nothing about his life or process, which ended up being really illuminating through reading the book. His employment came through patrons, which I found interesting. Wealthy nobles would fund individual artists for community works, or in certain cases personal projects. Leonardo wasn’t sitting in a gallery waiting for potential clients to walk in, which makes sense but I hadn’t really thought about much. And in terms of how he made his art, a couple things. One, he was such a careful observer of nature. Everything he put into his works, were based on his observations of nature. I am not going to remember the exact quote, but to say he was never bored for a second of his life would not be hyperbole. He was amazed and interested in everything that surrounded him. I found this to be inspirational. And the way he translated what he saw into nature into art was new to me. His great talent wasn’t off the charts creative juice, but rather observational skills noted above and ability to create art using mathematics. His approach to creating the pieces was deeply scientific. I always had this impression of artists being consumed by a force they didn’t fully have control over or understood, which allowed them to create art that nobody could conceive of. But Leonardo was not that way – he was a planner, and methodical in his execution. What’s the point of this paragraph? One to show you that I’ve read about Di Vinci. Two, to explain how influential his connection to nature was for me personally even though I am not pursuing art formally. And Three, to articulate what I learned about his method, and that not all artists were creative wild men and women.

Before I wrap this all up, I’ll give you one more perspective on my experiences with art. A few years ago when I was really determined to learn new things, one of my ideas was to learn how to draw. I had always been embarrassed by my horrible art skills going all the way back, and thought it would be a fun hobby to pick up. Maybe I could learn how to be a cartoonist! Well I still have that same sketch book, my pencils, and erasers. Didn’t make it too far, and haven’t gone back to it. And I can’t give you a good reason why except maybe being stretched a little too thin on the hobby front, and not believing in my ability to make up for lost time. Maybe I am better suited to be a consumer and not a producer.

Ok, back to today. I believe it is more than useful, let’s say it’s important to consume art daily. And integrating it into my schedule formally has been one of my better changes in recent memory. I would recommend it to anyone, and would argue that anyone can do it. You don’t need to spend a ton of time on it for one. I dedicate fifteen minutes towards it each day, and probably would be ok with ten if push comes to shove. And you don’t need to consume via a coffee table book. You can also get a ton of stuff online nowadays. The google arts and culture app is a pretty good free place to start. Or go to wikipedia and try an artist you have interest in, or even who’s name you can remember to get the ball rolling. I’ve also heard instagram has many, many good follows in the art realm.

And to reiterate why I am advocating for this – it can have a real and lasting impact on how you view everything around you. It’s not about remembering the specific details in a painting or photo. It’s more so about giving your brain a new vantage point it has never seen or thought about before. That increase in experience could come in handy some time, you never know. It’s worth the effort, make sure your entertainment vs art allocation is in check. Just like any soundly managed media company would.

Thanks for reading and I will speak with you again tomorrow. 50 Minutes. 1550 Words.

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