Why Art?

Why Art? August 28, 2018

My wife recently hung a small painting in the master bathroom. I bought the painting some years ago during a trip to Florida. In slightly impressionistic style, it depicts a rowboat tied to a dilapidated dock. Behind the boat the sea stretches out until it meets the graying sky.

When I walk down the steps into my basement, a close-up photo of a tiger’s face greets me, taken by one of my adult children. The tiger keeps a close eye on me as I turn on the landing and head toward my recliner.

On the mantle in our living room is a large giclee print of a painting by my mother-in-law showing the stretch of the Chattahoochee River that ran directly behind my wife’s childhood home in the northern suburbs of Atlanta.

What use do these paintings have? Why spend the money or make the effort to adorn a home?

Among many responses, one might say: I do not live near an ocean; I rarely visit the beach. When I do, I am stunned to silence by the grandeur of it all. By putting a small glimpse of a seascape on our wall, I can experience some of that awe every day.

To my knowledge, no tigers inhabit the dense forest around my home. But every time I walk down to my basement, I glimpse the splendour of one of God’s feline masterpieces.

The art offers windows to glory that would otherwise be invisible in our everyday lives.

The river scene on the mantle is multiply meaningful for my wife. I, more abstractly, am reminded of slow muddy Southern rivers, of Huck and Jim and Great American Novels.

I can make a similar point from the other direction. Though a small town in the deep South, my home town could be Anywhere, USA; or Nowhere, USA.

Several of the main roads are four-lane highways lined with chain restaurants and stores, organized into mini-malls containing three or four businesses. The architecture ranges from nondescript to cheap to ugly, nondescript being the highest level of achievement.

So what? Is my town missing anything? We can get everything we need at the local Publix or WalMart. There’s a Starbucks and a Chik-fil-A and a Buffalo Wild Wings if you want a beer with your meal. What more could one need?

What missing is any building that can plausibly be described as beautiful. What’s missing is the window to glory that art provides, the window that rouses the soul to joy.

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