So as an artist and teacher, it occurs to me often the larger question of ‘Why is art important?’ I imagine it is obvious to many who would even be reading this, but I feel that articulating it is another matter entirely. Then I imagine there are those that feel art is not important, but that’s why it is important, that sort of thing. As a community college instructor, the obligation falls upon me regularly to explain why an art education can be beneficial to several different walks of life and disciplines. And I honestly do believe it is. Much of the conventional wisdom around this is centered around the idea of creativity, and indeed I spend some time going into what that is and means with my “Introduction to Art Concepts” students early in the semester, as do the texts associated with that course.
I fancy it a sublimation of the survival instinct; if your life depends on it, you will get real creative, real fast. Artists are people who attempt to engage in creative processes without (usually) being in unforeseen life-threatening situations. I know what you’re about to say, but Bas Jan Ader was an exception to lots of things. But perhaps it is an instinct that needs expression in order to be a healthy, happy person….maybe.
One of my other sales pitches for the importance of art is referring to it as the “R&D department of culture”. Sometimes I like using THE MAN’S corporate lingo -- sometimes I even preface it by saying “If culture was a corporation, art would be the…”. Having insight into the strategies behind artworks and artists, with whom creativity is their business, can give one an edge in any discipline, over those who are not art educated. For many of us this is painfully obvious. The avant-garde does indeed trickle down to the mainstream, where it creates totally boring things like jobs, capital, supply, demand, products, etc. Don’t believe me? Reality TV? 70’S PERFORMANCE ART. Ikea furniture? MINIMALIST SCULPTURE. Photoshop? RAUSCHENBERG. Hipsters? WARHOL. I actually think that’s the litmus test for the avant-garde to cross over into “history”, but that’s another topic altogether.
We currently are all feeling the burden of those boring things I spoke of earlier, and there is a scramble for solutions towards relieving that burden. In many ways creativity is at a premium right now. However it gets solved, it will be a solution that has existed before, in some way; as any artist will tell you, originality is just a myth.