Wednesday, April 18, 2001

What, exactly, does it mean to say that "one cannot live without art"? While certain art forms are indgigenous to almost all cultures (and often what is deemed utilitarian by a culture is often considered to be art by the cognescenti of the "civilized" world), how do we explain the generic happiness we see in the minimilast ethnicities in the world who do not have access to Beethoven, Vermeer, Jackson Pollack, Willa Cather, etc., etc.? Is art, therefore, a sine qua non of our lives? Is the privlige of being exposed to it a part of nurture we cannot, in our society, do without?

On an Honduran island in February 1999, devestated by a hurricane the autumn before, I worked to help rebuild the small island. What struck me was the stoic implacability of the native population and the joy and happiness they took in simply being able to continue with their lives. They were subconsciously convinced all would be well. (Sad to say, their own politicians said it would take up to fifty years to return to pre-hurricaine status.) Pressuming these Hondurans had never been exposed to any great degree to the artistic gifts of the Rennaisance and et seq, would their lives be made more amenable, more enjoyable, less filled with strife, than with an inculcation of the great artistic treasures of the world?

If it might be true that art would not make an appreciable difference in the way they live and have lived their lives, and that they operate comfortably and with great vitality in their daily lives without art, what does art really mean to those blessed to see it, hear it and read it? In other words, how are we affected by art? Is it--as I believe, affecting on a deeply subconscious level, or is it a truly non-evasive, real time soul pleasing form of gratification that goes no further than the last note of Rodolfo's heartache in La Boheme; the turned back after viewing a glacially beautiful Turner; or the last page of a Don DeLillo novel?

I'm open to some thoughts on this.