Henri Matisse, by another Henri (Cartier-Bresson)
Art is a fundamentally undemocratic process. It can be deliberate, raw, tortured, beautiful, cynical, strange, stunning, gorgeous, contradictory, but it is not decided by committee.
Maybe that’s an old-fashioned view – the world after all is connected now and everything seems designed by a collective or at least that’s the utopian idea behind the society many people wish to see.
However, art as such is not a part of the collective realm of commerce, economy, society, politics or religion, but a voice and a place that stands – by its very necessity – apart from all that. It is what allows a work of art to comment or reflect on any other of the elements of our existence. It stands at a remove.
It may be a Utopian remove, a locked ivory tower of the senses and perceptions, or it may be the cold and harsh voice of a hermit or the unconcerned voice of a self-absorbed wanderer, but it is a deeply necessary aspect of life, this remove from the bustle and self-importance.
It’s a playground of the imagination, but it’s also a hall of sometimes distorting, sometimes deeply truthful mirrors. A necessary mystery, because it allows for quiet and reflection.
From a very regular and normal point of view it certainly seems superfluous, especially if it doesn’t sell, but that is missing the point completely. It is superfluous, but at the same time it is our own greatest achievement, because it is a reflection of self-awareness and presence, of what we like to call out own humanity.
Art creates a place where we can reflect on our own actions, as an individual or a species, look for answers and alternatives or simply amuse or scare ourselves by those puzzling mirages that we observe, forgetting that they are ourselves.
Art is not defined, it happens sometimes and sometimes fails to happen. It can appear for moments in a soap opera or in any circumstance of our lives or it can be there permanently, for a mind open to watch out for it.
To decide by committee what art is and what not, to imagine that any label would turn something into art or turn something away from being art is a ridiculous notion. To teach somebody what is art and what not is equally ridiculous. To imagine that something is and always remains art, ridiculous.
But a moment of openness can turn errors into art, mistakes into fantasies, small moments into something meaningful.
Art, in short, is something that happens to all of us, but is not something that we can get together and nominate to appear.