Can you imagine?

marit3-1fc52Can you imagine ? A colleague of mine in the “Gauche caviar” (a reference to the leftist intellectual and artistic circles in Paris) once told me that I am not an artist, because I did not attend art school ! Many famous artists did not go to college before becoming painters or writers. Some did for sure, but not everybody. You can attend all the art classes in the whole world and still not become a famous artist ; you are either born one or you are not, or so it is said.
Not too long ago, I observed a gathering of students enrolled in a writing class at a New York University. There were quite a variety of people, both in age, background and culture, but all seemed to share a common goal. They dreamed of becoming famous writers one day. If fame and glory is all they dream about, however, where is the art ?
Dave Hickey, a famous American art critic, said recently in an interview that : “the art world tends to be driven by its market, and throughout the ’50s and the ’60s it was a relatively small art world with dealers and collectors and one or two small museums. It was during that period that the most powerful and permanent American art in this century was made—from Abstract Expressionism and Pop, to Minimalism and Post-Minimalism.” In the late 1960s, however, there was a shift in the cultural authority and, all of a sudden, “rather than an art world made up of critics and dealers, collectors and artists, you have curators, you have tenured theory professors, a public funding bureaucracy—you have all of these hierarchical authority figures selling a non-hierarchical ideology in a very hierarchical way. This really destroyed the dynamic of the art world in my view, simply because like most conservative reactions to the ’60s it was aimed specifically at the destruction of sibling society—the society of contemporaries.” According to Hickey, you don’t need to know anything to understand good art.
“I write because I have to.” These words came from a writer I met some time ago, and there was no reference made to fame and glory, but more to the need for expression of his thoughts and feelings. Pablo Picasso put it this way : The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place—from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.
So finally, what is the definition of an artist ? I must admit that I have never given the subject much thought, but perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson is right when he said “The true artist has the planet for his pedestal ; the adventurer, after years of strife, has nothing broader than his shoes”. Be that as it may, aren’t we all artists then ? Arnold Bennett put it this way : “The artist is sometimes granted a sudden, transient insight which serves in this matter for experience. A flash, and where previously the brain held a dead fact, the soul grasps a living truth ! At moments we are all artists.”
Art is also in a unique position to assume a more special function—an excellent means of communication, promoting ideas, and creating public awareness. Only one humane, political work of art in the last fifty years has achieved real fame—Picasso’s “Guernica”, which was inspired by an act of war, the bombing of a Basque town during the Spanish Civil War. “Guernica” was also the last modern painting of major importance that took its subject from politics with the intention of changing the way large numbers of people thought and felt about power.
How do we encourage art and artists to spread peace ? A new international and non-profit organization, World Culture Open, working to promote reconciliation through art, held its inaugural conference in September at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Explaining why the group sought to hold its first meeting at the UN, World Culture Open spokesman Michael Shank said the aim was to encourage governments to « promote and integrate art and cultural traditions that have existed for 10,000 years into the realm of political discourse. »
We here at DIVA can only welcome this initiative, and we hope that it will become a huge success, because we truly believe that it’s through the values of cultural diversity, tolerance and respect that we can get a better world for us all.
DIVA n 18