What is art good for?
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I read, in the wall text, about how as a young man Wassily Kandinsky had two experiences that determined his artistic mission--seeing one of Monet’s Haystack paintings and hearing a performance of Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin. He came away, it said, determined to create an emotional reaction through color and composition and, like music, in the absence of a recognizable subject. And above all, he believed in the transformative power of art to inspire human beings to a higher level of living.
As I walked the ramp and looked at painting after painting, I came upon several school groups clustered with their teachers in front of paintings. In each case, hands were eagerly being raised and ideas offered about the work. In each case the group was spending time looking carefully at paintings that offered no easy way in. It made me think of all the school budgets in which art education is one of the first things to go.
It made me wonder what the “takeaway” is from a school day. What, years from now, will those children remember? Photosynthesis? The rules of grammar? (I hope so!) The Treaty of Ghent? Certainly all of these. But more. How about the ability to look hard at a baffling painting and try to find something in it that tells them something new about their lives? How about the ability to appreciate what art can do?