Let’s talk about art, creativity and— the meaning of life. Where does that spark of inspiration come from. How does that explosive blast of energy create something new in this world?
But why do we focus only on the artist and pay so little attention to the other party—the viewer.
This time, let’s talk about the viewer. I’ve often thought that a work of art is incomplete until someone looks at it, thinks and feels something about it, and then responds. That is the completion of the creative process.
The artist has produced the work and now says—“This is how I see the world, if only for a moment.” She invites you into her world where you are exposed to her new perceptions, ideas and emotions.
How will you, the viewer, react? Do you like the artist’s work? Do you love or hate it or are you simply unmoved?
If you love the work, then your life, as the viewer, is enriched by the communication of thought and emotion of one human being to another.
If you hate it, then I’d argue that your life is also still greatly affected. You may hate it because his point of view challenges your perceptions in every imaginable way and, sometimes, that engages you in an angry response, [not mine] such as “My five year old could do better than Van Gogh!”
Speaking of Van Gogh, just look at his painting Bedroom in Arles. This is the art of a highly prolific yet scorned artist, whose work was never greatly valued during his lifetime. In fact, Van Gogh was driven to say that he believed his painting was for people not yet born.
Suppose I love [and I do] Van Gogh’s painting of his bedroom in Arles. I stand in his shoes looking into his world. How does that enrich my life? When I look at the painting, I think this is not anything like my own bedroom. The furniture is old, somewhat rag-tag and crammed in. Yet the whole room has a warm and welcoming sense to it in a strange way. Perhaps that tells me something about the man himself. There is an innocence to his work, which might have been painted by a child with a poor spatial sense. [Again, not my thought.]
Again, how does that enrich my life and bring meaning into it? I begin to think about the artist himself. The paintings on the walls of his room seem askew. Does he really see the room the way he has painted it? With whatever seems off-kilter, somehow I am all the more attracted. Perhaps, with those questions, thoughts and feelings, I am edging closer to an understanding of this other human being and by that my life is enriched.
I’ve had to consider a part of the artist’s life. I stand in his shoes and have gained knowledge and understanding of another human being. Perhaps I am a broader, more educated and compassionate person.
The whole process can definitely enlarge my understanding of humanity. And maybe I might be less lonely. I have always thought that there is no particular, intrinsic meaning in the universe which surrounds us. It just is. In fact, I think it is up to us human beings to create that meaning.
We can increase our sense of the meaning of life in many ways. My favourite is—experiencing ART in any form. Yours may be music or poetry. Mine is literature, painting and film.
One of my favourite artists is the American painter, MARK ROTHKO.
The prime intention in all his painting was to convey emotion. Above all, he wanted his viewer to experience the emotion he felt as he created the work.
Let’s have a look at some of his work. What follows is just my quick reactions upon seeing these paintings. Your reactions may be entirely different. Why not leave a note in the comment box below about yours?
Just stare at the oblongs in the blue painting. For me, in a moment, objects appear to rise up in the deep colour. See the beginnings of a cityscape in the top shape? It’s like a dream beginning to reveal itself. What happens if I squint?
In the YELLOW one, the soft
blurry edges create a sense of growth and movement. What tactile appeal! Will they be soft if I reach out and touch them? What’s the difference between the oblongs? The yellow is softer. Can you squeeze it like a sponge? I begin to see that the painting is not the very flat surface I thought it was, especially when I looked at the bottom of the canvas where there are areas of lighter orange.
For Rothko, the creation of emotion in his viewer was most important. He said, “I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.”
In the work below, what emotions do these multi-coloured shapes evoke? Most of his work creates in me a sense of peace, even of the sublime. But this one creates a sense of frantic energy just barely contained and ready to break loose. These brightly coloured fragments create confusion and anxiety in me.
Rothko wanted to create an emotional experience within us, the viewer. He drew deeply upon his own subconscious to draw out the material with which to create those emotions
Are you sad or perhaps depressed? He stated the matter in a beautifully simple fashion. “You’ve got sadness in you, I’ve got sadness in me – and my works of art are places where the two sadnesses can meet, and therefore both of us need to feel less sad.”
Looking at his work is like looking within oneself.
But what do we see? With the red and black oblongs, I feel the tension and weight created by the two black shapes above, almost as if being crushed. But the lighter red oblong at the bottom tells me that I survive this weight. That’s just how it strikes me. What feeling does it create in you?
After looking at the work of Van Gogh or Rothko, how can we doubt that an artist can bring meaning in life to his viewer?
Recently, I read somewhere a succinct definition of the meaning of life. To find the meaning of life we must pursue human flourishing through communication, understanding and service. Through the artist’s communication to the viewer, he creates experiences which lead to growth, pleasure and flourishing—that which is good for the human spirit.
Today, there seems precious little which causes our spirits to flourish. And so, it often seems hard to find much meaning anywhere. Let’s turn to art in all its glorious forms [painting, sculpture, music, photography. film and, of course, literature], to mend our bruised spirits.
Both Dr. Carl Jung, the psychiatrist and Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, called upon the artist to fulfill this role. They also called upon artists to act as the prophets of society.
He or she, as the hero, ventures out to find the prize and returns with it as a gift to the community.
So—all you artists—you’ve got your work cut out for you! Communicate with your viewers, readers and listeners and create some meaning in life.
For me, writing about art, life and love brings much meaning to my life.
Tell me what art causes you to flourish and bring meaning in to your life and the life of others?
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing.
Coming soon! This trilogy has a fourth novel The Wondrous Apothecary which will be published 2019. Find out more… http://maryemartintrilogies.com/the-wondrous-apothecary/
All novels of The Osgoode Trilogy and The Trilogy of Remembrance may be purchased anywhere online including Amazon http://www.amazon.com/author/maryemartin/