Why Does Art Matter?

Aren’t you glad that you clicked on this?  It is a question that was posed to me today by a lady-friend of mine.  She was telling me about someone she knows, who has an art project that sounds SO pretentious, yet it has gotten him a lot of respect, from the university art crowd.  She doesn’t get it, and neither do I.  Though, that is a lot of modern art, isn’t it?  Like a piece of art outside of my alma mater’s art building.  It’s just a bunch of steel welded together into a weird shape.  Oh yeah, tell me how fucking “deep” that is.  Please, enlighten little ol’ Lucien.  I’m all ears.  However, as I came to see that, it did signify something to me.  It told me something about modern culture – it’s dull, uninspired, pretentious, and thinks so highly of itself, when in reality, the true works of genius are treated like they’re blaise.  Except Game of Thrones.  Against all odds, a series of books that was modeled after real medieval history became a national phenomenon.  I know, right?  It’s weird.

That said, however, it also got me to realize the answer to my lady-friend’s question – why does art matter?  This is going to get a little pretentious in and of itself, I suppose, so you can take what I’m about to say as you will.  Art is a way to express culture.  Here’s the thing about art – it imitates life.  If you believe the rhetoric of certain, social justice-inclined individuals, then you might believe the opposite.  That is so patently false.  Probably the best refutation of such is a quote by Frank Zappa –

There are more love songs than anything else.  If music could make you do something, we’d all love one-another.

He’s absolutely right.  This argument that video games cause violence or sexism or what-have-you is ridiculous, and now there is real data to show that it’s a lie.  As if we didn’t already know.  Still, getting off-track.

Early Morning at Cold Spring, Asher Brown DurandArt imitates the world we live in.  Look at the art that came after World War I.  The expressionist movement.  Some of the saddest poetry every written was done after what was called The Great War.  People believed that that would be the last major war, after how much death and destruction it caused.  Or, at least, they hoped it would be.  Shell-shocked veterans told stories and wrote poems about horror.  People who saw friends get maimed and mutilated by mustard gas.  Soldiers who watched sinkholes in the trenches eat their friends alive in an instant.  These things came home with them, and it affected the art that came after.  The 1920’s was one of the most interesting periods of artistic expression ever done. Watch Ken Burns’ film “Jazz” and you’ll see.  This time period did amazing things.

When a person talks about the role art serves, then it is impossible to miss the fact that, throughout history, art has shown where a culture is.  More important – the challenging of art can say even more about a culture.  When Igor Stravinsky wrote the ballet “The Rite of Spring,” he challenged conventions so bad that he caused a riot and had to flee Paris.  Art not only acts as an indicator of society, but can challenge it as well.  Another famous piece of artwork that challenged the world was Salmon Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses.”  This book challenged a religion and got the world talking about the problematic elements of Islam.  Something that has still been a talking point, to this day.

I am currently engrossed in an episode game called Life is Strange.  From Dontnod Entertainment, it tells the story of a teen girl named Max, who finds one day that she can alter the flow of time, and is using this talent to help solve a mystery surrounding her school, with it being connected to all of her friends.  Why do I love this game so much?  What about it has captivated me?  After all, I’m a grown man.  Though, technically, so is Max.  She’s 18.  But, to me, that still feels like teenage years.  Especially since she’s still in high school.  You get to call yourself a grown-up when you leave that.  What is it about this game that has me so eager to see the next chapter?  Well, part of it is the great characters.  These feel like real people.  They have problems that make sense.  They aren’t some contrived Mary Sues (or Johnny Sues, as the case may be).  Each of them has flaws.

When I first heard about this game, it was told to me that it is “SJW: The Video Game.”  With this most recent episode, I know that that is wrong.  It was all done in one line.  While you are in the pool area, you can explore the locker rooms and sleuth.  There is a piece of graffiti on the wall, implying that Rachel Amber was gay.  Max says one thing, “bros will be bros.”  NEVER, in all my history of SJW culture, have I heard one say that.  Never.  So yeah, that argument is out.

Thinking about all of this, it finally made me realize why art matters.  It’s because art is the way for us to talk about who we really art. A way to express our humanity.  The growth of our species is represented in our greatest works of art.  From the tapestry-style portraiture of Medieval Europe, to the gorgeous perspective paintings of Renaissance Italy. Art shows how our culture exists.  This is amazing. No other medium can do this.  Part of why I am a gamer is because video games have the ability to capture art in a way that makes me Life is Strange Episode 3want to interact with it.  Which is the major reason why I love Life is Strange so much.  I can shape this story.  This narrative is held together by me.  I sculpt it, shape it, change it to what I think is the right way.  I could be wrong!  The fact that this latest episode counts who has David’s gun as an important element has me worried.  Still, the mystery is too good to stop.  I am too engrossed!

So, why does art matter?  Art is the way that we show who we are, as a species.  It shows that humans are not mindless drones, like ants.  Well, not all of them.  I can’t help but watch just about anything on TLC and think that these people are drones.  Or their audience is, at least.  Oh well.  But even that says something about our culture.  Depressing as it is, that is an art medium that says something about humanity.  It says that our society is bored, decaying, stricken with cultural ennui. But there are signs that hope is here.  Shows like Game of Thrones and many others give me a belief that we might be able to save things yet.  With all this in mind, I realize that art is the greatest thing that humanity has going for it.  Without it, we have buildings and spaces.  Without art, there is no color in the world.  Culturally, anyway.  I watched the remake of Cosmos.  I get the science of color.

Now I put it to you – why do you think that art matters?  Or do you?  Do you think that art is just some pointless part of the world, that serves no purpose?  Let me know down in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Cultural, artistic expression reflects philosophical evolution, interest in growth, perspective, observation, interpretation.  Suspect you won’t see any art in Collector base. Culturally dead.  Tools for the Reapers.  Worse than the Geth.”  – Mordin Solus, Mass Effect 2

Peace out,

Maverick

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