ART & CONVERSATION
From the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux to Australian Aboriginal tales that describe climate conditions from over 7,000 years in the past, humans have been making art, telling stories, and connecting with each other for as long as we’ve been around. Modern thought often reduces the lives of our ancestors to a mere struggle for survival, but consider the possibility that people of the past actually lead lives that—while constrained by necessity—had ample room for craftsmanship, aesthetic appreciation, and collective expression.
Who were these ancient artists? One could argue “everyone.” Women across centuries have been artists working with needle and thread; any carpenter could be a sculptor working in wood; medieval scribes illuminated texts. Even enslaved people in America turned to the art of music to provide solace in inhumane conditions. Art was a feature of everyday life, not separate from it.
While there exists a tradition of fine art created specifically for display, the term “art” is applied with broader strokes. It’s common for Americans to think of an artist as someone who makes a living by producing art, and to define art as works destined for archival display. We conflate art with fine art and believe that artistry is the unique domain of those who make fine art as a full-time job.
But what if the logo design on that cup from your favorite coffee chain is art? The ad you impatiently skip before watching a Youtube video? The cover on your textbook? These are functional creations, but they can represent abstract ideas, provoke thought, and inspire emotional reactions just like any painting hanging in the Louvre. Maybe some would argue that such creations are not “pure” art since they exist to further the interests of some entity that commissioned them, but by that logic, the Sistine Chapel becomes only a tacky billboard for the Catholic Church.
Visiting a museum or gallery is not the only way to experience art in our daily lives; it is one of many venues. Elevating art for its own beauty is one wonderful form of appreciation, but finding the more quotidian art in our daily lives provides its own satisfaction.