One of my students responded to a journal prompt about art by saying that art is about love. It was a very basic idea; we make art for the people that we love. We might draw something for a friend or craft something for a crush. I think he was onto something. I think art and love connect on a very important level, and I also think that this has something to do with why people see art as of lesser importance than what they would call more practical pursuits such as science or engineering or mathematics (anything STEM).
Love is not entirely tangible. It doesn’t help you sell a product. It doesn’t help you build atomic bombs. It doesn’t fight your wars or cure diseases or make you rich. In fact there are plenty of people who claim that love doesn’t actually exist. I was once told by a high school history teacher that romantic love is just a hormone that last two years and then fizzles out. To be sure, there is a lot of cultural buildup around romantic love, and some would say this idea applies even to familial love. They might say what we think is love is actually just an evolutionary tactic – protect your progeny to secure the human race and the continuing of your genes. I say I love you to my sisters every time we go our separate ways even if it’s just to say goodnight. There is no way to scientifically prove that I love them but I do, because I believe I do. If I were to drop this belief it is not inconceivable that I could stop feeling my love for them. Yet, I don’t think that would mean that I don’t love them. Love requires belief. Love requires a willingness to love. Love requires listening to your feelings and trusting your own attachments.
Sentimentality has come to be viewed by many as a very negative thing. We have been told that our feelings are a trick, that intelligent people aren’t fooled by their heart and that we should trust only data. If this way of living is indeed the correct way, then art becomes pointless. Love becomes pointless. We may keep our roles: husband, wife, mother, father, sister, boyfriend, lover. Because they give the people around us a sort of rank and we are sure to treat these people with care and respect. We may even call this love but all in all we believe these are simply the people we wound up with and there is nothing objectively special about them. With this view also, art is a waste of time. Why pay to sit in an audience – to feel the swelling of your heart as you hear the orchestral music swell? To be brought to unexplainable tears by the way one dancer moved her hand across the others body? No. These things are nonsense and a waste of time. There are more important things to be doing. Curing the sick. Advancing technology…. heck I could be playing video games. This is the mindset that Art and Love are both faced with. They both call upon a faith in the importance of raw emotional experience.
To me, it is a somewhat silly notion for a person to count out the only part of their lived experience that comes from within them, to call it faulty simply because it is not proved valuable by an outside authority. I fault this in large part on a large scale obsession with objectivity. Art is not objectively valuable. It may not mean the same thing to one person as it does to another. It may not touch one person as it does another. It may touch an audience in an entirely different way than the artist intended. But in truth, when it comes to your individual person, your subjectivity in a large sense is you. What is your life if not the ways in which you experience it? The ways in which you are touched deeply by the people around you? The ache of your living body after a long day? What is your life if not a love of living?