What is art? This question has been posed by artists, philosophers and disgruntled students for centuries. For some, art is a technical masterpiece, displaying incredible skill. For others, art is whatever causes emotion and ideas within an audience, regardless of skill.
Historically, what has passed for art has shifted with decade and century, ranging from the pinnacles of realism to the antiquated concept of exercising emotion, or humors, as the ancient Greeks knew it. As I think over my time as a fine arts student, I can think of many examples, many moments where I was standing in a gallery or sitting in a concert where I thought, “This is art.” But I also know that there are some moments where, despite critical acclaim, I think to myself, “This is not art. This is (insert disapproving adjective here).” And as I was postulating on the subject while my wife watched “Glee” (again, insert disapproving adjective here), I came to a personal definition. Art is sanity.
That might seem like a stretch, but hear me out. What do you do when you are stressed beyond belief? You probably have a playlist for just such an occasion. What do you do when you need to get over a bad breakup? You watch a movie that makes it easier to do that. “(500) Days of Summer” is my personal favorite. What do you do when you want to connect with other people? You go to concerts, clubs, exhibitions and any number of other venues. You sing songs that everyone knows, and quote movies that everyone has seen. I think that art has taken on a unique role in our society in that it keeps our crazy away. Or, if demons need to be exorcised, art has a place for that too. Depressing music and films sell out to masses of sympathizers. Angry music allows us to curse and break things, all while in the safety of our own headphones.
Simply put, I think that art acts as a life vest of sorts for the average human. It gives us a voice to stand behind, and nod in silent but fervent agreement. More than a life vest, I think it’s a sanity vest to prevent us from drowning in the rapids of assignments, relationships and general stress that comes with being alive.
As such, art has to be open to the public. No one can claim a monopoly on sanity vests. If they do, they need to check that they’re wearing theirs correctly. Like beauty, art is in the eyes of the beholder. No one can tell someone else that what just inspired them isn’t real. They don’t get to do that. No artist can tell someone that what they got out of their work is wrong. Because that’s the nature of the beast. Art is what people need it to be.
So if you’re angry, find what diffuses you. Sad? Try treating that emotion with a healthy dose of art. Happy? Reinforce it with some art. It’s the fix-all of the human experience. Disclaimer: Art cannot repair a relationship with your significant other, put money in your checking account, raise a failing grade or put food on the table. You’ll have to do that. But it can give you the wherewithal to do it.
If you’re like me, you’ve already used it. Personally, some shredding blues guitar helps me shake off being gloomy. Some dubstep wakes me up in the morning. Eric Whitacre grants me sacred introspection and reverence. “The Office” and “30 Rock” remind me that chronically agitating people and problems can be funny, and are surmountable, if you choose to see them that way.
You can pick up your vest in many buildings on campus. They’re available through Google, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix, Hulu and Redbox. Be sure to pick one up before we get too far into this next semester.
You’re going to need it.