My very first post here on Scoutie Girl asked the age old question, “What is Art?” It started an interesting conversation in the comments. In the seven or so months since, I am still exploring that question, or rather a derivative of it.
What is art good for?
I carry a moleskine or the like wherever I go to jot down ideas, or take notes on what I see and hear. Last week when I was going through some I found notes I’d written in response to a Renoir show at the Philadelphia Art Museum over a year ago. I have never been a huge fan of Renoir. His work all looks alike to me and is somehow too pretty. What I learned at the exhibit surprised me and helped me understand why he worked as he did, and why I was not in love with it.
Renoir began drawing and painting as a child working in a porcelain factory, creating decorative china. Discovering a talent for painting, he went on to become a painter of great acclaim, but he never lost the idea of art as decoration.
The purpose of painting is to enliven the walls.
Now I am not sure all his contemporaries would agree, but it is true that he lived in a time when art had become something for the privileged, and held an elitist place in society. Renoir was determined not to intellectualize art, but I believe he was unusual in that.
My art history is rusty, but I believe this began during the mid to late Renaissance and continues to this day. What is interesting to me is that for the larger part of history, art had a purpose in function and informing. The earliest art we know of – that of cave dwellers – had a purpose that is uncertain, but certainly a purpose beyond decoration.
The purpose of the paleolithic cave paintings is not known. The evidence suggests that they were not merely decorations of living areas, since the caves in which they have been found do not have signs of ongoing habitation. Also, they are often in areas of caves that are not easily accessed. Some theories hold that they may have been a way of communicating with others, while other theories ascribe to them a religious or ceremonial purpose.
Later, in Egyptian art, we see great luxury going into decorative arts, but also there was purpose to much of it, and so it goes until around the 1500s. Even during the Middle Ages, when some great cathedrals were built, the elaborate decoration was representative of the Glory of God. Stained glass scenes were illustrations of Bible stories to teach the illiterate.
So, what does all this mean you might ask? We live in a time where some art still has a place in high esteem and intellectual theory, and where more people than ever are creating some kind of art. Supplies are available and affordable, and digital photography has opened that field to the masses.
I think that indicates it is time to bring some function back to the arts.
Much of my searching and writing here has been about how to do that.
The past month gifted me with an opportunity to try an idea out and I think I am on to something. I had been thinking about offering personalized images for significant events or celebrations. A woman I know had asked me to personalize one of my tree pieces with names and date for a wedding gift. This made me think about how to take it further and actually create a piece with images that would mean something to the recipient.
My dear friend John lost his uncle last month. They had been really close and he was pretty torn up about it. He sent me some photos he’d taken in fall which he and his uncle both loved. He also told me he was working on a poem to honor his uncle and wondered if I could somehow do something with this. What a coincidence, I have been thinking about doing this exactly!
The result is what you see above, and my new service is called Memento Vita, Remember Life, because even at a memorial service I believe we should celebrate a life rather than mourn a death.
In my never ending concern for the life of the planet, I created this awareness piece yesterday. I plan to do a series with crows as I have an inexplicable fondness for them.